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Dairy industry wants food box program to continue in 4th quarter

-The Hagstrom Report

The U.S. dairy industry wants the Farmers to Families Food Box Program to continue through the first quarter of the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, industry officials told The Hagstrom Report late last week after a congressional hearing at which its value was questioned.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has announced a third round of purchases and distributions, but authorization for the program expires on Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Dairy prices have rebounded, but National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern told The Hagstrom Report that his members hope the program will be continued for the rest of 2020 because there is still so much market uncertainty and because there are still so many Americans who have lost their jobs or are underemployed and need food.

At a House Agriculture Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations Subcommittee hearing last week, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif, who chairs the Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee, said he did not think that California dairy producers had been treated fairly under the program.

In a telephone interview, Mulhern acknowledged that there had been some geographic problems, but said “overall the program has been very helpful to help stabilize dairy markets. We are very hopeful it will continue. It helped us get through a catastrophic situation this spring.”

“The wild card now is food service,” Mulhern said. Some states have reversed the opening of restaurants, and it’s unclear how many of the nation’s schools will reopen, he said.

“We want funding for the first quarter of the next fiscal year,” he said, adding that the organization does not yet “have a sense of next year.”

Matt Herrick, the senior vice president for communications at the International Dairy Foods Association, said “We appreciate dairy in the program during this time of uncertainty for producers and processors alike. The market situation changes by the day. A program that primes demand and delivers food to people in need is helpful overall.”

Of the problems in the program’s management, Herrick noted, “It’s the first time something like this has been tried. USDA has worked from the beginning to make the program a success for all stakeholders, but especially food insecure Americans. The legacy is that the program has created a new model for distributing food to those in need via public-private partnerships.”

IDFA also released a letter that Prairie Farms USA, an Illinois co-op that is one of its members, had written to the House leadership endorsing the program.


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