Farmers across America are feeling the pain of the Coronavirus pandemic. In California, California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson said COVID-19 social distancing requirements have caused some hurdles for the ag industry including those farmers who would typically sell to the foodservice industry. “In the first weeks of various shelter in place orders issued…there was a great effort to work out what did that mean for agriculture,” Johansson said. “We were successful and continue to be successful with that but we are beginning to see a transition now as we see those other industries that we are dependant on really beginning to suffer. Whether that’s in our grocery stores, but really our restaurants and foodservice and even trade.”
He added that farmers saw those markets go away overnight. As those markets temporarily deflated, there has been a surge in demand at grocery stores, and food banks. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation and Feeding America, “Food banks are under tremendous pressure to meet the skyrocketing demand. Press reports underscore the massive surge in need, with some food banks seeing as much as 100 percent increases in demand.” With that being said, producers can help meet that need by taking products meant for restaurants and redirect it to food banks.
The American Farm Bureau Federation and Feeding America sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue applauding the department and administration for their work during the COVID-19 outbreak. They also addressed the need of the food banks and offered a solution.
The letter states, “We are writing you to ask USDA to expand on your partnership with us in executing the solution. The Department has the opportunity to help address both unfortunate consequences described above through a voucher program that would deepen the relationships between farmers and food banks, allowing them to work directly with one another instead of relying upon third parties and what is sometimes a longer pathway to get food from farms to food bank shelves. We recognize that regulatory flexibility also may be required to ensure rapid action, and we ask you to consider it within the confines of ensuring the safety of the food being supplied.”
This proposal includes the implementation of a USDA-run voucher system that would allow farmers to work hand in hand with food banks across America. This allows for rippling benefits such as helping hungry families, preventing food waste and helping farmers gather some of the production cost back. “This is an opportunity for USDA to act quickly to produce a win for food banks and a win for farmers,” the letter states. “It’s a chance for government to serve as a facilitator while clearing bureaucracy and red tape, which fits well within the philosophy you have followed in your leadership of the department.”
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