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USDA’s Buy Fresh program has tight deadlines

The newly announced $100-million-per-month USDA Buy Fresh program offers produce companies a way to sell product for government feeding programs.

And the application process starts right away.

The United Fresh Produce Association BB #:145458 said USDA told them the requests for proposals will open April 24; proposals are due back to USDA May 1; awards will be announced May 8; and deliveries will begin May 15.

The Buy Fresh program is part of the CARES Act stimulus program from the federal government to help companies struggling due to the government shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a webinar on April 21, David Tuckwiller of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, said AMS is getting out of its comfort zone with this program and moving very quickly to help food companies and U.S. citizens struggling for food during the economic downturn.

“Our goal is to support American farmers and feeding people,” he said.

Tuckwiller said Buy Fresh is only for sellers of fresh produce (no canned or dried) that is grown in the U.S. Ideally, fruits and vegetables would be packed in consumer-sized packages so that they could go “from the truck to the trunk,” he said.

That will put some pressure on suppliers to work together with partners to fulfill the government requirements, many of which are not used to working with USDA for food assistance, Tuckwiller acknowledges.

Mollie Van Lieu, senior director nutrition policy for United Fresh, said USDA knows feeding programs are under pressure because they don’t have many of their volunteers during the pandemic, yet the demand for food is higher than ever.

Buy Fresh has similar programs for the dairy, pork and chicken industries, but within the fresh product program, certain commodities will have priority due to meeting foodbank needs and helping growers who have been hit the hardest, Van Lieu said.

These include berries, apples, oranges, pears, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes and onions.

Robert Guenther, senior vice president public policy for United Fresh, said he hasn’t heard what USDA’s pricing model will be, but he doesn’t think it will be based on the lowest bid.

USDA gives more details about the Buy Fresh program and a link to its solicitation page here.

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services