Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried today sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting flexibility to help move Florida perishable crops quickly to food banks, school meal programs, and other federal food purchase programs. With many restaurants and food service establishments closed, Florida agricultural producers are facing a sudden market decline for fresh commodities ready to be harvested such as tomatoes, green beans, and peppers, in which Florida leads the nation in production.
Commissioner Fried requested that USDA purchase additional agricultural products through the more than $9 billion for federal feeding programs in the recently-passed CARES Act. The Emergency Food Assistance Program and National School Lunch Program are administered by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, but the Food Purchase Program is under the USDA’s authority. Fried also requested that the USDA act swiftly to move to farmers the $9.5 billion in agricultural financial assistance passed on March 27 in the CARES Act, the $2 trillion stimulus bill.
The letter was also shared with members of Florida’s Congressional delegation, and reads in part, “I applaud our farmers and producers who have shown unbelievable resilience as they continue to work day in and day out to feed our communities during this trying time. Now, we must make sure our farmers, who are also struggling in the current market even as they continue to provide for others, are not left behind and food is not left to waste.”
Last week, Commissioner Fried wrote to Congressional leadership asking that additional Congressional action include direct USDA financial assistance for growers, funding and flexibility for school nutrition and emergency food programs, and investment in rural broadband to enhance availability of telemedicine.