It’s a $470 million pie sliced up into a lot of pieces, leaving farmers feeling it’s better to receive a little bit of something rather than a whole lot of nothing.
The "it" in this case is part of the Agriculture Act of 1935, specifically Section 32, where U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has announced the funding to purchase foodstuffs from farmers sideswiped by the arrival of the coronavirus. The intent of the government spending is to put a bandage on some commodity markets wounded by COVID-19.
Perdue, in a USDA press release, noted: "America's farmers and ranchers have experienced a dislocated supply chain caused by the virus (and) USDA is in the unique position to purchase these foods, delivering them to hungry Americans who need them most."
USDA is buying up farmers' supplies in several categories, a variety of meat, dairy, seafood, fruits, and vegetables during the third quarter of fiscal 2020. The edibles will be donated to food banks, schools, and other relief programs and while dairy product purchases make up the bulk of the program ($120 million), there's a slice of the pie for most everybody — everything from turkeys and taters to chicken and cherries.
The Section 32 purchases are in addition to other purchases previously announced to provide support for struggling agricultural producers. With $575 million remaining available for additional use, requests for future purchases, including potential plans for fourth-quarter fiscal 2020, will be assessed on an on-going basis.
Now comes word via the Almond Alliance of California that tree nuts will be included in the program with up to $40 million in direct purchases of a variety of domestic food nutrition assistance efforts which will also bring some relief to the almond industry itself.
With a glut of nuts and prices taking a nosedive on income graphs — along with an anticipated bumper crop of 3 billion pounds this year — this latest crop addition is being welcomed.
The Almond Alliance of California has been a leader in advocacy efforts to include almonds in the Section 32 food purchase program, working with congressional representatives to make things happen.
Garamendi requests aid
U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., was one of those fighting for the cause, requesting USDA support of the almond industry. In a letter to Perdue, he noted: "California's almond industry was already facing hardship from retaliatory tariffs prior to the COVID-19 pandemic which made a hard year even harder for almond growers.
"Since the onset of the virus, raw bulk market prices for almonds (one of California's top-three commodities contributing over 100,000 jobs and representing billions of dollars for the state's economy) have drastically declined with the industry anticipating a 36% reduction in farm gate value," Garamendi wrote. "The federal government must take action to help growers weather this storm."
Offering thanks for the congressman's efforts to include California almonds in the USDA food purchase program, Almond Alliance President Elaine Trevino said: "This will provide a food source as well as relief for the industry as it navigates through the impacts of COVID-19 which has already impacted the domestic and international supply chain for our top export. We need to endure this essential agricultural infrastructure remains viable during these unique times.
"The California almond industry has been experiencing many dynamics before COVID arrived — trade issues involving 70% of our crop — and when you add the coronavirus on top of that, you have a disruption of the supply chain," Trevino said. "Then add in an anticipated 500-million-pound increase in this year's harvest and as much as a 50% price reduction — we needed some relief over the short term."
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