In response to the Covid-19 outbreak, the USDA is ramping up two programs to assist farmers, ranchers and consumers. Last Saturday, President Trump announced that “Starting early next week, at my order, the USA will be purchasing, from our Farmers, Ranchers & Specialty Crop Growers, 3 Billion Dollars worth of Dairy, Meat & Produce for Food Lines & Kitchens. “FARMERS TO FAMILY FOOD BOX” Great news for all!” This program was first announced in late April, but details are still quite hazy about how all of the pieces will come together. According to the USDA, the agency will purchase up to $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy, and cooked meat to be distributed to families in need. Participating farmers are required to box-up and deliver their own products to distributors and wholesalers, who will in turn, send per-approved boxes of these products to food banks, community and faith based organizations and other non-profits who pass them along to people in need. USDA purchases will amount to about $300 million per month allocated at $100 million each of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products and meat.
An American Farm Bureau Federation study points out that consumer spending for food at grocery stores increased 27%, since the end of March, while food purchased at restaurants declined 25%. This switch in where food is consumed could impact farmers in the Four Corners Region who depend on sales to restaurants. However, Beth LaShell, Fort Lewis College, Old Fort at Hesperus Coordinator points out that demand for local agricultural products is robust. She expects that meat sales at the Old Fort Country Store and the Fort Lewis Farm Stand will be 50% higher than a year ago. But farmers who usually sell to restaurants are hedging their bets by ramping up direct sales to consumers through offering pickup opportunities and deliveries and planning sales at farmers markets. LaShell reports that some of the restaurants that have closed in Durango, have received loans through the Federal Paycheck Protection Program, so they’re continuing to pay their staff, while encouraging these furloughed workers to volunteer to help local farmers complete their spring field work.