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USDA awards $1.2b for food box program

USDA Photo courtesy of Lance Cheung domestically-produced food boxes canned beef, dry milk
Purchases include $317 million for dairy, $258 million for meat and $175 million for combination of fresh produce, dairy and meat.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved $1.2 billion in contracts for the Farmers to Families Food Box Program designed to connect excess meat, dairy and produce on farms with families facing food insecurity. Due to high interest and need, the funding far exceeds the $100 million per month the department initially planned for the program.

The program will purchase $461 million in fresh fruits and vegetables, $317 million in dairy products, $258 million in meat and $175 million in a combination box of fresh produce, dairy or meat products.

“This is a new, innovative approach to provide critical support to American farmers and families, and USDA moved as expeditiously as federal procurement rules allow to stand up the program and solicit offers,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said. “We were pleased to see the abundance of interest from both food distributors and nonprofit organizations. Within days, the Farmers to Families Food Box Program will begin distributing surplus food -- while safeguarding food safety techniques -- to communities across the country where it’s needed most.”

The Farmers to Families Food Box program is a creative approach to incorporate underutilized foodservice infrastructure — such as transportation and refrigerated storage — to quickly and efficiently get food to Americans in need. The effort also goes beyond traditional programming to streamline the acquisition and distribution process and forge an important partnership among the private and nonprofit sectors, which will continue to pay dividends.

A full list of approved suppliers will be posted on the Farmers to Families Food Box Program website.

USDA is authorized to spend up to $3 billion through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). Suppliers will package these products into family-sized boxes and then transport them to food banks, community and faith-based organizations and other nonprofits serving Americans in need from May 15 through June 30, 2020. 

The International Dairy Foods Assn. (IDFA) applauded USDA for moving quickly, aggressively and creatively to formulate the Farmers to Families Food Box program. This announcement comes on the heels of USDA approving additional funding through Section 32, adding $140 million to the total of dairy product purchases.

“Not only will this effort purchase roughly $3 billion in food from American producers and processors and get it to people in need across our country, but the program also will establish a new paradigm for building partnerships among the public, private and nonprofit sectors to respond to food insecurity. It is truly a win-win-win,” IDFA president and chief executive officer Michael Dykes said in a notice to the dairy community.

“For our dairy processors who have lost their foodservice and institutional business, IDFA is grateful that USDA plans to purchase $317 million in dairy products — from milk and butter to cheese and yogurt — by June 30,” Dykes added. “Our hope is that these purchases, alongside traditional Section 32 and entitlement program purchases, spur demand for additional dairy products and, thereby, keep the dairy supply intact throughout this crisis.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation and Feeding America, the country’s largest hunger relief organization, sent a letter to USDA requesting a nimble approach to quickly and effectively get food from America’s farms to the nation’s food banks and others addressing food insecurity.

American Farm Bureau Federation president Zippy Duvall said, “We applaud the USDA for its quick action and flexibility in finding a way to get food from America’s farms to the dinner tables of those who need it most. These food purchases will help the hungry while providing income to farmers and ranchers who have seen some markets for their food disappear during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Duvall added, “The American Farm Bureau and Feeding America were among the first to call for a quick solution that links farmers with the nation’s food banks. USDA’s responsiveness and the early success of the food box program give hope to those in need and to farmers who have food ready to be harvested.”

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