USDA is keeping its lightning-fast promise to implement the new Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (COFOG). Details are arriving quickly and furiously, and deadlines are tight.
The CFAP package consists of two parts: $ 16 million in direct payments to commodity producers, specialty crop farmers, and livestock and dairy producers issued through the Farm Service Agency (FSA) from the USDA and $ 3 billion in direct purchases of meat, dairy and specialty crops. .
The Buy Fresh program (also known as the Food Box Program) is part of the second stream that the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) will administer. Funding for both streams comes from the CARES law put in place to help businesses affected by COVID-19 closures, which have hit the fruit and vegetable industry hard.
Here’s what you need to know:
Purchase program for fresh products or food boxes
Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for the Buy Fresh Produce or Boxes of Food component of COFOG are now available for those who wish to provide boxes of produce to non-profit organizations such as food banks, church groups and schools. Applicants must submit their completed application and bid by May 1. USDA will notify them by May 10 if their offer has been selected for a prize. The immediate need in communities across the United States will determine the timing of this RFP. The USDA hopes to begin food deliveries by May 15 or soon after.
“USDA is working as quickly as possible to implement COFOG,” a USDA spokesperson said. “The purchasing and distribution of produce, dairy products and meat will begin in about two weeks. Registration for direct support is expected to begin by the end of May. More information will be provided when the rule is released.
USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) The commodity supply program will secure around $ 100 million per month for fresh fruits and vegetables over the next six months. USDA will reassess the monetary amount per month and the length of time this assistance is provided as the program progresses. The program is different in that it paves the way for smaller food deliveries that can go from truck to trunk, rather than larger fully loaded trucks.
USDA will award contracts for the purchase of agricultural commodities, assembly of commodity boxes, and delivery to identified nonprofit organizations that may receive, store, and distribute food commodities.
“AMS will soon be partnering with local and regional food distributors,” a USDA spokesperson said when we asked how the program would work. “Once these partners are identified, AMS will work with food banks as well as community and faith-based organizations to initially identify with the distributor for direct coordination of deliveries. Food banks, community and faith-based organizations can distribute these boxes to anyone. “
Emergency food organizations and others have grappled with volunteer shortages due to social distancing, unprecedented demand and food shortages since COVID-19 first took hold times in the United States. get farm produce to emergency feeding sites. Foodservice distributors will package a pre-approved blend of fruits and vegetables and deliver it directly to emergency food sites in their area.
The guidelines for boxes of fresh produce are as follows:
- Products and processing must be of national origin
- User-friendly packaging (but not necessarily retail packaging) is specified
- Laureates must identify and manage relationships with nonprofit organizations, with a delivery schedule and box-like conditions
- Contracts will be issued in seven regions and proposals can be submitted for multiple or partial regions.
Only sellers of fresh produce (not processed produce) will be eligible for the program, and produce must be grown in the United States. The USDA has said certain products such as berries, 5-pound mixed fruit bags, carrots, onions, and tomatoes, to name a few, will be given priority. The USDA has based priority products on what food banks want and need, and by which producers have been hit hardest due to the impacts of the pandemic.
With the rapid developments to launch this program, there are still details to be worked out and many questions on how to overcome possible barriers to participation, especially for small operations that do not have links to food banks and other emergency situations. food organizations, which is why it will be important for the fruit and vegetable industry, USDA and trade associations to work together and encourage local partnerships.
These resources offer tips and advice for making a successful proposal:
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition also has an excellent blog post on his website this is what explains the COFOG reduction plan. In addition, Farm communes plans to publish a series of informational webinars on who is eligible, how to receive compensation, as well as additional material to help document actual losses.
During the aforementioned Wallace Center webinar, Prem Durairaj, Co-Founder / Head of Business Strategy and Operations at Business Elevates highlighted several important points regarding a successful offering:
- Make your proposal as clearly as possible. This makes it easier for the USDA to go through your request and identify that you have responded to everything they requested in the proposal.
- Use RFP headers wherever possible in your proposal.
- Be thorough and check everything before submitting your proposal.
- You try to differentiate yourself from other companies; do not be humble when filling out your proposal.
- You don’t need to lower the price of the product you want to provide, but be fair and reasonable. Don’t go too low or too high.
Could Buy Fresh be a gateway to future partnerships with the USDA?
The USDA is entering new territory with the Buy Fresh program, which is pulling it out of its comfort zone of food storage. The United Fresh Produce Association applauded the new program and called on the fruit and vegetable industry to step up and support the effort.
The Buy Fresh program could also be a harbinger of good things to come for the fruit and vegetable industry in the future. If successful, the program could help prove to the USDA that fresh fruits and vegetables deserve a higher place in federal diet programs.
“There is potential there,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president, public policy for United Fresh Produce Association. “The USDA will partner with vendors it has never worked with before. This could open up opportunities for the industry, and there is no reason that a successful and effective program cannot continue in the future to help deliver federal nutrition programs.
The United Fresh Produce Association plans to work closely with lawmakers and the USDA to ensure that this program not only runs smoothly, as careful thought has gone into the details and execution, but also qu ‘it benefits those who really need the help, Guenther said. The worst thing, he said, would be for the USDA not to continue funding Buy Fresh or consider a similar program in the future under federal food programs because the funds were misused. use or did not benefit those for whom they were intended. to help in the first place.
The Paycheque Protection Program (PPP) has been the subject of this type of review before, with recent reports in the news that large restaurant chains, hotels and other large businesses have received payouts. funds from this program intended to help small businesses with less than 500 employees. President Trump announced at a press briefing on April 21 that he would ask large corporations and institutions to return the money they received, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters at the same press briefing that the Treasury Department would issue guidelines on the certification that companies must meet to qualify for PPP loans.
What does all of this mean for the fruit and vegetable industry?
The direct payment component of the COFOG program applies to producers of specialty crops who can prove real losses where prices and supply chains have been affected. However, not all who have suffered losses will be eligible.
“The programs will help most of the farms that have suffered significant losses,” a USDA spokesperson said. “For producers who have not suffered a loss of at least 5%, there will be no payments. Where prices are not available for USDA to predetermine eligibility, growers may submit claims demonstrating a loss of at least 5%, which will be judged by the FSA and AMS on a case-by-case basis. The regulations will have more details on the scope of these payments. “
The payment limit for this part of the COFOG program is $ 125,000 per product, with an overall limit of $ 250,000 per person or entity. Eligible products must have suffered a 5% price reduction between January and April. Qualified raw materials must have suffered a 5% price drop between January and April, according to the USDA.
For those in the fruit and vegetable industry who suffer millions of dollars in losses per week, the relief offered by the two components of the COFOG program does not seem to do much to plug the leakage of lost revenue. However, when you place it in the perspective of the main objective of the program, which is to support producers during this unprecedented situation that could otherwise go bankrupt, the relief funds are a good start to meet the needs of the industry. .
“These programs are about keeping people busy and busy, and trying to provide an outlet for products that would otherwise be wasted on farms,” Guenther explains. “They are supposed to support them during this difficult time until we are all out on the other side of COVID-19 and things are back to normal. “
Guenther adds that helping players in the fruit and vegetable industry is not a unique situation.
“We try to put as many tools in the toolbox as possible to keep people solvent,” he says.
Visit the United Fresh Produce Association Coronavirus Resource Page for more details on the COFOG program and for the latest updates on coronavirus relief for the fruit and vegetable industry.
USDA Food Box Distribution Program Offer Proposals Due May 1 – What You Need To Know