Fruit and vegetable farmers and their distributors are losing billions of dollars as restaurants and other buyers shut down and the government needs to step in, according to a new plea from the industry that traditionally shies away from government assistance.

The United Fresh Produce Association is asking Congress and USDA to, among other things, set up a $5 billion fund to pay foodservice distributors who took possession of fresh fruits and vegetables, but now cannot sell them or pay back the farmers who grew them.

Separately, United Fresh is asking USDA to allow foodservice distributors to disperse current produce inventories immediately through federal feeding programs. “While some are using retail channels to utilize their current supplies, most inventory (is) currently sitting and waiting for a ‘customer'” United Fresh says in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

United Fresh also says schools should be allowed to use funding through the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to provide pre-packed boxes of fresh produce to families that need the produce.

Bottom line: “This outbreak has had a seismic impact throughout the produce supply chain and is causing extreme uncertainty in the industry. For example, distributors serving schools and restaurants have seen this sector dry up almost overnight,” United Fresh said in a letter to congressional leaders.

Here are United Fresh’s letters to Congress and USDA.

Source: AgriMarketing