United Fresh and a number of industry partners presented to the U.S. Department of Agriculture a comprehensive Produce Market Stabilization Program to immediately support critical financial needs in the produce supply chain. This was a major undertaking to understand the wide-ranging financial impact this crisis is having on our entire industry.
Industry members from across the supply chain have been helping estimate losses and define where immediate assistance is most needed. They’ve also been critical in helping us understand the intricacies of our supply chain; how the entire chain can be affected by the shutdown of the restaurant and hospitality industry almost overnight; and the weaknesses becoming apparent every day in our ability to keep the food supply chain moving.
Ours is not a supply chain that can pause – when we harvest today, that product starts a journey that ends up being consumed usually in just a couple weeks. But disruptions to demand at the end of that journey create financial impact everywhere along the chain from field to table. Whether it’s lost inventory along the supply chain or crops left in the field, the impact is shared. And that’s to say nothing about future lost sales.
So the proposal to USDA with 85 different produce organizations signed on is nothing less than amazing. Rather than each group fighting for its own, we’ve forged a consensus that I can assure you is our best chance for real relief. We have to fight for this together as an industry, as every other food and agriculture sector is facing its own challenges and they have a seat at the table too. There is still a long and steep road ahead.
And that leads me to the second important point – these produce organizations worked together with our Congressional leaders from across the country to educate, advocate and convince them of the urgent need to support our industry.
Some 108 members of Congress sent their own bipartisan letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue urging USDA’s support for our cause. I especially want to thank Congressmen Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Fred Upton (R-MI), Jim Costa (D-CA) and Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) for spearheading the Congressional support for this letter, and all of my colleagues in produce associations around the country who worked to get their local Congressmen and Congresswomen to sign on.
The first step in this process was encouraging Congress to pass the CARES Act devoting $2 trillion to the economy, and some $9.5 billion specifically carved out for fruits and vegetables, livestock, dairy and local food systems. Now comes this urgent proposal with a road map of how USDA can support our industry immediately. Next will come deep discussions and analysis within USDA about channeling resources to multiple interests. And eventually, we believe there will have to be continuing additional financial relief from Congress if our economy is going to be able to pull out of this crisis and grow again.
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