US dollars

President Trump and US Department of Agriculture (USDA) secretary Sonny Perdue have announced some US$2.7bn in financial support targeted to the fruit and vegetable industry, in response to the overwhelming losses from the Covid-19 emergency.

That support is divided with US$2.1bn allocated for direct payment to growers, and US$100m per month for the next six months in produce purchases.

“From the moment that the foodservice channel was shut down, we’ve worked hard with our members and allied produce associations across the country to formulate a plan for the government to help those who have been hit the hardest,” said Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of United Fresh Produce Association.

“Working together with the co-chairs of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance – Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association (FFVA), National Potato Council (NPC), and Western Growers (WG) – we have collectively developed specific proposals supported by the broad fruit and vegetable industry to outline our needs to USDA and the administration.”

“The damage to Florida producers of fresh fruits and vegetables has been swift, staggering and devastating,” said Mike Joyner, president of FFVA. “Florida specialty crop growers have suffered more than US$520m in losses for this season. The programmes announced today do not reach a level that would benefit Florida specialty crop producers at the level that is desperately needed. This is a first step, but much more is needed to ensure that a key driver of Florida’s damaged economy can return to strength.”

“The US potato industry is US$4bn annually with 60 per cent of that total involving foodservice,” said Kam Quarles, CEO of FFVA. “Potato growers appreciate secretary Perdue’s rapid action intended to stabilise family farms whose survival is threatened due to the mandated food service shutdown. Today’s announcement is a downpayment on those efforts that will require additional resources and flexibility to deliver the necessary relief for our great potato industry.”

“Farmers who provide our fresh fruits, vegetables and tree nuts have suffered massive economic damage, triggered by the nearly complete shutdown of the foodservice sector,” said Dave Puglia, CEO of WG. “This crisis threatens to put thousands of farmers and associated companies out of business. The relief package announced today by president Trump and secretary Perdue provides a very limited and conditioned first injection of US$2.7bn in financial assistance for the fresh produce industry until the economy regains its footing. Clearly, far more will be needed with more reasonable limits.'

“We appreciate the steps taken today, but also must reinforce to Congress that the funds available to agriculture are simply inadequate to keep our industry strong into the future,' Stenzel added. 'The programmes announced today will limit our ability to reach those who were most impacted by the tragic events around the Covid-19 pandemic.'

The funds have come from the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Securities Act (CARES) passed by Congress on 29 March to support the overall economy.

With small business loans being tapped out and other funding inadequate, another financial relief bill is now being considered in Congress.

“Our coalition has begun to work immediately with USDA and our allied partners to ensure that these programmes address the most urgent needs for the industry,” said Stenzel. “Also, we’ll continue our push with Congress to allocate the resources needed to support our industry.”