As food banks struggle to keep up with dramatic increases in demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic, farmers and ranchers are eager to work with the Agriculture Department to bridge the supply gap and get farm products to those in need, according to a letter from the American Farm Bureau Federation and Feeding America.
The organizations praised USDA’s leadership through this crisis and offered recommendations for additional steps to ensure food banks across America are stocked, which would allow farmers and ranchers to expand on existing partnerships with food banks and respond to shifting demands and pressing needs. While demand has increased across the supply chain and store shelves have emptied from panic buying, food banks are seeing as much as a 100 percent increase in demand.
According to AFBF and Feeding America’s proposal, however, this demand can be met by redirecting supply from farmers and ranchers who have lost other markets, such as restaurants and tourism businesses due to closures and stay-at-home orders, by implementing a USDA-run voucher system. This plan would allow farmers and ranchers to work directly with food banks to get farm-fresh products quickly to families in need, while also preventing food waste and helping farmers recoup some of their production costs at a time when they are fighting to hold on.
The letter states,”We are writing you to ask USDA to expand on your partnership with us in executing the solution. The Department has the opportunity to help address both unfortunate consequences described above through a voucher program that would deepen the relationships between farmers and food banks, allowing them to work directly with one another instead of relying upon third parties and what is sometimes a longer pathway to get food from farms to food bank shelves. We recognize that regulatory flexibility also may be required to ensure rapid action, and we ask you to consider it within the confines of ensuring the safety of the food being supplied.”
“This is an opportunity for USDA to act quickly to produce a win for food banks and a win for farmers,” the letter continues. “It’s a chance for government to serve as a facilitator while clearing bureaucracy and red tape, which fits well within the philosophy you have followed in your leadership of the department.”
View the letter here.