Aid to schools and food banks to get fresh produce.

Flexibility on temporary farm workers from Mexico.

Help matching independent grocers with suppliers.

These are a few of the priorities of the United Fresh Produce Association as it tries to help members meet demand for fruits and vegetables during the crisis.

The group paired with the National Grocers Association to try to keep independent supermarkets stocked by connecting produce distributors and retailers.

“The fresh produce industry is committed to continuing to feed America. Foodservice distributors and processors have strong capabilities to deliver product, transportation and supply chain solutions in these unprecedented times,” says Tom Stenzel, United Fresh president and CEO.

Stenzel wrote to Congress and the USDA seeking a variety of actions on behalf of 1,500 member companies, including growers, shippers, fresh-cut processors, wholesalers, distributors, retailers and foodservice operators.

“This outbreak has had a seismic impact throughout the produce supply chain and is causing extreme uncertainty in the industry,” Stenzel wrote. “For example, distributors serving schools and restaurants have seen this sector dry up almost overnight. The cruel reality is that these children and their families still need to be fed, and the fresh produce supply chain continues to have the capability and supply but lacks the flexibility and resources necessary to meet the needs of their communities.”

Plus, growers are hurt by lack of payments from vendors, and distributors aren’t being paid for product delivered to restaurants, hotels and other businesses that closed, he notes. The fresh produce distribution chain that serves restaurants is at a standstill.

Some recommendations include:

  • Establish a $5 billion fund for claims by foodservice distributors that have outstanding expenditures to grower-shippers.
  • Immediately make an additional $1 billion available under DoD Fresh and the USDA Vendor Program for schools, food banks and other emergency food providers experiencing increasing demand. DoD Fresh prime vendors and fresh produce vendors are primarily small businesses, and using that supply chain to meet the demand could help the businesses continue to provide employment and “be in business when schools return.”
  • Provide $225 million funding for the Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) for a temporary increase to the cash-value voucher benefits.

Read all of the actions suggested by United Fresh in its full letter to Congress.

Earlier, agriculture and produce associations appealed to the federal government to ensure workers are available after the U.S. suspended processing H-2A visas for new temporary workers from Mexico. While returning workers are still eligible, the groups worry that a lack of access to new workers could mean a production decline.

The United Fresh industry resource website on the new coronavirus includes information about small business loans and a downloadable form for businesses to document that employees can legitimately go to work during the crisis as part “critical infrastructure.”