The $2.2 trillion federal relief bill passed last week includes incentives for every sector, and Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner wants to ensure farmers aren’t left out.
Commissioner Nikki Fried wrote U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on Tuesday, pushing to ensure farmers get their share timely.
“With H.R.748, the CARES Act, being signed into law on March 27, 2020, we urge the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to swiftly act to get the $9.5 billion in agriculture financial assistance into the hands of our farmers impacted by COVID-19 as quickly as possible,” Fried wrote.
“While the USDA works to implement and administer these funds, we urge you to take action now to allow more local growers and farmers in Florida to participate in federal food purchase and distribution programs, including exercising USDA’s Section 32 purchasing authority,” Fried added.
Fried, an exponent of the “Fresh from Florida” brand, described a proud industry humbled by the steepest economic downturn in generations.
“Florida’s farmers are the best in the world – from fresh fruit and vegetables to seafood and dairy, providing 300 nutritious commodities year-round. But given the current market disruptions,” Fried said, “Florida growers are reporting major losses.”
“After donating hundreds of thousands of pounds of fresh produce to local food banks, there are reports of millions more that will go bad – from one Florida grower who estimates 10 million pounds of tomato will be left on their vines to another making the hard decision to plow under one million pounds of green beans and four million pounds of cabbage,” Fried noted.
Fried urged Perdue to “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.”
For Florida farmers, accustomed to a race against time and the elements in recent years, the new reality of the coronavirus era presents another in a series of existential challenges.
The federal stimulus package includes $9.5 billion in nationwide agricultural assistance.
Franco Ripple, a spokesman for Fried, said Tuesday that the office was awaiting guidance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on how the money will be allocated to programs.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.