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New York senator calls for USDA inquiry into fruit and vegetable prices

UPDATE 9/30/19: Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, DC, issued a statement in response:

“The fresh produce industry operates on extremely tight margins, at every stage from grower to wholesaler to retailer. Our industry is the ultimate supply-and-demand economy, and our real goal must be to increase demand for fresh fruits and vegetables. That’s the key to raising prices paid to farmers, allowing reinvestment for growth. Transparency in any supply chain is a good thing, and we always welcome USDA’s analysis of our markets. It’s important for each sector in our supply chain not to lose sight of our goal to grow fresh produce consumption, while fighting with one another over whose share of a dwindling pie is bigger.”

PRESS RELEASE: Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, today called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to investigate if fruit and vegetable farmers in New York and across the country are receiving fair prices for their produce. While the prices of fruits and vegetables have increased for both consumers at the grocery store and for wholesale buyers, the prices that farmers receive for these same products has not kept up with these increases – and even gone down in some cases.

“Our New York farmers are facing a produce-pricing crisis. Throughout the state, fresh fruit and vegetable growers are hurting because the prices they get for their produce have stayed flat, and in some cases have even gone down, while the middlemen who move the produce from farmers to grocery stores and grocery store shoppers have seen the prices for the same produce increase,” said Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee“Despite this, the USDA has not reviewed the fruit and vegetable industry in decades. We need to understand what is causing these unfair prices for our farmers, and I am calling on the USDA to complete a top-to-bottom review of the fruit and vegetable industry so that we can help New York’s farmers better price their produce and plan for their future.”

There are thousands of farms and orchards throughout New York State, and New York consistently ranks as one of the top agricultural states in the nation. However, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and National Agricultural Statistics Service shows that the prices paid to farmers for many of New York’s specialty crops – including apples, snap beans, cabbage, and broccoli – lag behand the terminal prices (the prices that the middle men who move these same crops from farms to grocery stores receive). Furthermore, structural changes to the fruit and vegetable industry in recent decades, such as new farming technology, nutrition science, and consumer behavior, have left farmers facing uncertainty as they feel that the market is not transparent enough to know if the price they are offered for their produce is fair.

The persistently low prices that farmers receive for their fruits and vegetables have led to the loss of small family farms, and in the last five years alone, New York lost 11,000 acres of vegetable production. The USDA has failed to conduct a full review of the fresh fruit and vegetable market for decades, and Gillibrand’s push for a new study of this industry would help identify which factors contribute to unfair prices for farmers and increase transparency in the market. Gillibrand is also calling for the USDA to use new technology to improve farm sales reporting to ensure that data is updated in real time, increasing transparency for farmers and allowing them to see if the prices they receive are fair.

The full text of Senator Gillibrand’s letter to the USDA can be found here