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A Message from Tom Stenzel on Coronavirus/COVID-19

Apr 24, 2020

April 24, 2020; 5:00 pm EDT/2:00 pm PDT

Dear produce industry members,

As we end another week in crisis mode, thanks to all of you for keeping the food supply moving. 

There have been several important developments this week to bring some support to the industry. Since being announced last Friday night, USDA has moved rapidly to develop plans for a “Farmers to Families” program that will purchase $100 million per month in fresh produce to be delivered to food banks, schools and other non-profits.

United Fresh hosted the USDA team in a webinar yesterday to answer your specific questions about the program. We were pleased to have more than 800 industry members participating in the event, and you can now watch a recording of the webinar here. USDA has just published an RFP for companies to apply for the program. We encourage companies across the industry to participate.

On the USDA direct payment program, we worked with members of the House and Senate, who now understand why payment caps of $125,000 per commodity, or $250,000 total to any entity, are simply inadequate to meet the needs of fruit and vegetable crops.   Yesterday, we were very grateful that 126 members of the House and 28 members of the Senate wrote letters to the President and urged the Administration to raise those caps. Our example of the strawberry industry investing as much as $30,000 per acre simply to grow the crop was impactful in making this case.

Just today, the President signed legislation passed by Congress to infuse another $310 billion in the small business Paycheck Protection Program. If you were not able to get your loan approved last week, there is now another infusion to make more resources available.

In the midst of all these issues, I do also want to let you know that some “business as usual” continues. Our Dr. Jennifer McEntire shifted to a virtual platform this week to lead our 2020 Produce Safety Immersion class with great results. With support from Renaissance Food Group and Ecolab (gold and silver sponsors, respectively), class members engaged with world class produce safety experts over three days, continuing their technical education and personal development to grow their expertise as food safety professionals.

We also announced our Retail Produce Manager Awards this week, saluting 25 managers in different chains and independent grocers across the United States and Canada. Thanks to our friends at Dole Food Company, we’ll be honoring these essential workers on the food industry’s front-line as part of United Fresh LIVE! June 15-19. In our new virtual format, retail teams from every company will be signing on to salute their colleagues and join in the celebration. Be sure to register today and remember, it’s FREE! 

Last, I’ll leave you with a personal comment about the spirit of care and camaraderie we’re seeing across the industry. Every day we see and hear about companies that are donating produce to food banks, schools and others in need. This week, a couple of us here in DC had the privilege to join Keany Produce and the Produce Alliance in handing out produce boxes to hospital workers at the George Washington University Medical Center. The joy in the faces of night shift nurses, aides, custodians and more picking up a produce box on their way home was matched only by the joy in the hearts of those who were thanking them.

I know this is happening time and again across our industry, and I thank you all. You make me proud to be a part of this great produce family!

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