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Get another shot at a Food Box contract

Produce companies that were denied a USDA Farmers to Families Food Box contract in the first period have an opportunity to earn one for the July 1 segment.

USDA also has the authority to monitor those who received contracts and even terminate them, which it has done.

USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator Bruce Summers clarified some points of the program and the bid process in a Produce Marketing Association BB #:153708 Town Hall virtual meeting May 27.

Deputy Associate Administrator, Agricultural Marketing Service, Bruce Summers. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.

Summers said in the original bid process, about 600 companies responded to the request for proposal call from USDA, and about 200 received them. They were chosen by four or five criteria, including the technical plan for their bid, past performance with government contracts, references and price.

“Companies were chosen only on what was submitted in writing,” he said.

Summers said the first six weeks of the program was funded for $1.2 billion, and there is up to $3 billion through the end of the year, which would amount to about 44 million 10-40 pound boxes of fresh produce, dairy and meat for American families.

He said companies that weren’t chosen the first time could receive bids on the next, which starts July 1.

“We’re looking at the 400 companies who didn’t get contracts and the next one will be a combination of companies with current contracts and ones who didn’t get them,” he said.

USDA plans to meet with produce industry leaders on Friday, Summers said, to talk about round two.

He said USDA had to move very quickly on the Food Box program because the need was so great.

“We put it together in a month,” he said, noting the typical process would include working with companies who got a contract for four to six weeks to get them up to speed.

“We shifted some of that to post-contract because of the urgency,” Summers said. “We’re starting our oversight this week,” checking food safety provisions, making sure all produce is grown in the U.S., and making sure companies follow their contract.

USDA has the power to make changes, he said.

“We did terminate one contract,” he said. “That’s the only one.”

Summers said he looks forward to working the produce industry leaders to make the next segment smoother.

Hunt Shipman, Principal and Director of Cornerstone Government Affairs, said on the webinar, “It used to take us months to do what USDA is doing now in days and weeks.”

Summers said USDA continues to update its Farmers to Families Food Box web page.

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services