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USDA Produce Box budget set for $20MM

usda produce box lineup

USDA’s new Produce Box program, which it says is not designed to replace the Farmers to Families Food Box program, has a budget of about $20 million.

A USDA spokesperson said 41 state agencies placed orders for 1,288,353 mixed produce boxes for June through August delivery through the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).

The orders range from a high of 345,000 from California to as low as 900 boxes from Oregon.

USDA estimates the total purchase value of the orders will be about $20 million but said it could change once contracts are awarded.

According to UDSA, “the fresh produce package will include a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that meet the following requirements. A 10-12 pound package that includes a minimum of at least four of the following: 3-5 lbs. of vegetables (no more than 3lbs. of root vegetables; i.e. potatoes, yams, carrots, onions, etc.), 3-5 lbs. of fruit; at least 2 locally grown fruit or vegetable items, as available, and if not available, add an additional fruit and vegetable item to meet a minimum package weight range of 10-12 lbs. Packages will be expected to have a shelf life of 7-10 days once delivered to the location listed on the contract.”

However, according to USDA’s list of foods qualified for TEFAP, only five fresh produce items are included: apples, oranges, pears, potatoes and sweet potatoes.

The $20 million program would be far smaller than the Farmers to Families Food Box program in the Trump Administration, which distributed more than 163 million boxes with a budget of more than $4 billion.

Another comparison of similar timeframes shows USDA’s second round of food boxes last year ran from July 1 to Sept. 18, 2020, with USDA purchasing $1.78 billion for 66 million boxes vs. $20 million for 1.3 million boxes.

In a letter to food box program stakeholders, USDA said it was designed and implemented to be temporary, and the economy is in a better place now than a year ago.

Last month, the United Fresh Produce Association’s BB #:145458 issued a statement criticizing USDA for ending the food box program, saying both farmers and needy Americans would benefit from the program.

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services