Food Supply

Daughter-in-chief: Ivanka Trump pushes food distribution program

The U.S. Agriculture Department is unveiling a new food distribution program with an emphasis on aiding small businesses – an issue that is being pushed by a very prominent White House adviser. Her name: Ivanka Trump. Under the “Farmers to Families Food Box Program,” the federal government buys meat, produce and dairy products from farmers and ranchers and then provides it to local distribution centers that pack and deliver food boxes to those in need. It “really creates a virtuous cycle,” Trump told USA TODAY in an interview, citing a “robust demand” from food producers, consumers and “the most vulnerable in these challenging times.” Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who also participated in the interview, said the program will also address gaps in the food supply chain spawned by the coronavirus. “There was a misallocation of supply and demand, temporarily,” Perdue said. The program is a symbol of how the president’s eldest daughter is making her presence felt on a number of issues during the coronavirus pandemic. She has pushed for more aid to small businesses in programs designed to manufacture personal protective equipment, the paycheck protection program, and economic injury disaster loans. Trump, who called UPS chief executive David Abney about volunteering trucks to make food box deliveries, said she and others are “pulling all the levers” they can. And, no, the last name doesn’t hurt. “I think when you work in the White House, you tend to have your calls returned,” Trump said. “And I think most Americans are patriots and want to answer the call to action when things are requested of them.” She added: “I’m not shy about asking people to step up to the plate. The whole country needs to be galvanized in the effort, both to combat this deadly virus, but also to rebuild … to rebuild our economy as we emerge.” Trump spoke a day before the formal kickoff of the Food Box program, part of the stimulus plan known as the CARES Act. She will visit a distribution center in Laurel, Maryland, as the first food box deliveries go out the door. The USDA has already awarded $1.2 billion to food distributors to buy meat, dairy and produce products that farmers have been unable to sell because of government lockdowns. The distributors will pack the food into boxes for delivery to food banks, community and nonprofits that have had trouble getting food because of problems with the supply chain. “We’ll be up to $3 billion in total as it rolls out,” she said.

Outstanding!!  Major kudos to Ivanka for her work on this important issue.  For more, click on the text above.   Excellent!!      🙂

Trump announces $16 billion in direct payments for farmers hurt by pandemic ’caused by China’

President Trump on Tuesday announced $16 billion in direct payments for farmers and ranchers to compensate them for lost business from the coronavirus outbreak that he said was “caused by China.” During an event at the White House, Mr. Trump also directed Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to pursue cutting off trade deals with countries that ship beef cattle to the U.S. He said the U.S. beef industry is “very self-sufficient.” The direct payments, funded by the $2.2 trillion CARES Act that was approved in March and a commodity credit law, follows farm bailouts totaling $28 billion in 2018 and 2019. Those earlier payments compensated growers and ranchers for losses from tariffs imposed by China during the administration’s trade war with Beijing. “Now we’re standing strong with our farmers and ranchers once again,” Mr. Trump said during an announcement at the White House. Growers lost much of their customer base when restaurants were ordered to close during the outbreak. Much of the money will be used to purchase food to supply food banks around the country. The president said of the pandemic, “It should have never happened. You know that, I know that. The people that caused the problem, they know that, too.” “These payments will compensate farmers for losses related to the global pandemic caused by China,” Mr. Trump said. “We’ll be providing billions of dollars for corn, cotton, soybean and specialty-crop farmers, cattle ranchers, just about every category I can think of.” Robert Mills Jr., owner of Briar View Farms Inc. in southern Virginia, said the money is not a bailout. “We always expect the unexpected, and we didn’t expect this [pandemic],” he said. “It’s not a rescue program. It’s going to help these farm families be able to make good, wise financial decisions. This country relies on what these farmers and ranchers do every day.”

It sure does!  What was also left out of this article from today’s announcements at the White House was Ivanka Trump’s comments about efforts to package up food into “20-25 pound boxes” that would otherwise be going to waste, and is now going to food banks to give to those in need.  As has already been mentioned (see previous article above), it is an effort that the First Daughter has been speerheading, and something she deserves credit for.

Coronavirus may force hog farmers to kill 10M pigs by September

U.S. pork farmers may be forced to euthanize as many as 10 million hogs by September as a result of production-plant shutdowns brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, according to the National Pork Producers Council. At least 14,000 reported positive COVID-19 cases have been connected to meatpacking facilities in at least 181 plants in 31 states as of May 13, and at least 54 meatpacking facility workers have died of the virus at 30 plants in 18 states, according to an investigation by the Midwest Center for Investigative reporting. Dozens of meat production plants closed before President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act in late April allowing large facilities to remain open during COVID-19 in an effort to address supply chain and liability issues, but farms and plants still face overcrowding threats as some plants remain closed or have significantly slower production. Pennsylvania Farm Bureau Vice President Chris Hoffman, who won America’s Best Pig Farmer of the Year award in 2019, told FOX Business that production in these meat processing plants is back up to about 70 percent, but until production gets back up to 100 percent, the industry will see backlog issues. “We process over half-a-million hogs per day, and right now, from what I heard on Tuesday, all plants are running but at different levels. We’re at 70 percent. If you take half-a-million hogs every day, and you’re only running at 70 percent production, 100,000 hogs get pushed to the next day, and then that gets pushed back to 200,000 the next day,” Hoffman said. He added that these backlog issues vary depending on which area of the country farmers are operating in and which plant they are shipping to. “I’ve heard folks say the recovery of some of these plants is faster than expected. That is a great sign that the number [of euthanized hogs] could be less,” Hoffman said, but added that the wellbeing of the people who work in these processing plants is what’s most important. About 170,000 hogs that have reached the country’s harvest standards can’t be marketed due to plant closures and slow production, the NPPC said in a press release. The organization added that housing for these market-ready hogs is “not an option” because “younger hogs coming up through the supply chain need someplace to go for care and feeding.” Producers are then faced with the choice to watch their animals suffer due to a lack of proper care or euthanize them, which the NPPC notes is the “only humane option” for farmers who produce food. It can take almost a year to care for a pig from the time it is born until the time it is ready for harvest when it has reached about 270 pounds, according to national guidelines, the release says. Hogs that weigh more than 270 pounds “cannot be processed through the nation’s primary harvest facilities due to constraints in the equipment and concerns with worker safety,” the NPPC release says. Hoffman said it takes 10 months to raise a pig to be ready for harvesting. “Every week, we have a certain amount of hogs in our facility that need to be processed. It’s not like you can turn the spigot off. It takes 10 months for the [growth] process to be completed. The lack of processing creates an overcrowded situation,” he explained. The amount of time and work farmers put into raising pigs is what makes the euthanization issue more delicate than many people may realize. Even though the pigs are raised to eventually be butchered and sold to customers as food, Hoffman says a farmer’s animals become like family because of the dedication required to take proper care of them before harvest. “These are generational farms,” Hoffman said. “Here we are with farmers who are posed with a situation they never thought they’d have to deal with, and that’s euthanizing animals. My concern as I look at the industry is: It’s a real toll on a farmer, day in and day out. These animals are like our family, they are designed for meat, and it breaks your heart to make these kinds of decisions.” Different farms approach these schedules in different ways, and some pork producers are operating normally despite the pandemic, but the industry as a whole is facing dark times. Pork harvesting was down nearly 40 percent from the prior year as of May 6 due to the pandemic. Low harvesting numbers are expected to result in the euthanization of “10,069,000 market hogs … between the weeks ending on April 25 and September 19, 2020, resulting in a severe emotional and financial toll on hog farmers,” the NCCP release notes. Members of the organization called on Congress to allocate more than $1 billion to the Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish, as well as $505 million for euthanization and environmentally responsible disposal expenses.

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Why farmers dump food and crops while grocery stores run dry and Americans struggle

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to wage a silent war across the country, American farmers are being forced to pour out milk, crush eggs, toss fresh fruits and vegetables, euthanize livestock and plow under perfectly robust crops Meanwhile, financially beleaguered Americans are lining up at food banks in unprecedented numbers, humanitarian leaders fear a global starvation pandemic is burgeoning, and grocery store shelves are sparsely filled. So what has gone wrong? A dramatic dip in demand, weak links in the highly consolidated supply chain, and decades of industry monopolization, experts say. “A large portion of our food is now produced for restaurants, hotels, schools, and institutional users, about 50 percent. Those markets have effectively closed up, and there is not enough demand for home use now,” Dan Glickman, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, told Fox News. “Nor is the supply chain set up for this rapid transformation.” From his purview, the supply chain has become very centralized, especially in meat and poultry. “This move towards concentration of food processing has been a general trend for many years and has been done for efficiency and cost-cutting purposes. But we now see how it is impacted by a single event like COVID-19, where workers have been so impacted,” Glickman continued. “Four companies control about 70 percent of meat production. We no longer have a decentralized food production process, at least not to the extent of 30 years ago.” And the extent of produce waste and revenue alone is stunning. The United Fresh Produce Association, according to Politico, predicts its members are losing out on up to $1 billion per week. “Before the pandemic, U.S. consumers purchased about a third of their calories and spent over half of their food dollars on food consumed outside of their home – restaurants, fast food, schools, work cafeterias, etc.,” explained Dr. Douglas Jackson-Smith, a professor at the School of Environment and Natural Resources at Ohio State University. “The closure of these outlets and stay-at-home orders have radically changed where most Americans buy and consume their food, and the supply chains have been slow to reorganize and respond.” The farmers who are dumping milk and plowing under produce have thus lost customers and markets that buy products in bulk, he continued. Moreover, a large fraction of U.S. milk is used to produce mozzarella cheese, most of which is used in pizza sold through retail chain outlets – and stay-at-home orders have significantly reduced the volume of demand for pizza cheese. “In regions where this is the primary end-use for the bulk of local milk supply, it is not easy to pivot to smaller retail sized packaging or non-cheese products,” Jackson-Smith noted. “A lot of the food supply chain was built to supply commercial and retail foodservice outlets. It is difficult for many of these companies to change their production practices and distribution systems in the space of a few weeks.” For some farmers, it has taken less mental anguish to kill their animals and decimate their crops than to simply standby as they suffer and rot away as the summer approaches. The stark images on social media of dumped potato mountains and fresh milk gushing into the earth has been especially haunting given that food banks, according to Feeding America, have experienced a 70 percent uptick in demand since the virus took hold and millions lost their livelihoods. Keiko Tanaka, a professor of Rural Sociology at the University of Kentucky, underscored that of the two main supply-chains in the U.S. food industry – one for household consumption and the other for commercial use – more than half the spending comes from the large-scale commercial side, which has been practically decimated. And making an immediate shift for the sudden demand change, she noted, is far from simple. Milk processors, for example, “do not have the equipment to package [excess milk] into smaller containers for grocery stores and retail use” when there has been already a glut of cheese and other dairy products with longer shelf lives.” “Like vegetable and fruit farmers, dairy farmers have little choice but to dump excess milk,” Keiko and her team of researchers stated. “Different reasons are at work for each food supply chain that makes it unfeasible to easily or quickly divert the food supplies for commercial use to household use. Among them are labor shortages, falling prices, and mismatches in the facilities and equipment.” In addition, tens of thousands of piglets have undergone forced abortion in recent weeks amid the diminished demand. Millions of chickens have been slaughtered – and not for food. In April, the biggest meat companies not only in the U.S. but the world – including Cargill Inc., Tyson Foods, JBS USA, and Smithfield Foods – were compelled to suspend production at some 20 slaughterhouses nationwide, triggering concerns of a mass meat shortage. Data released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed nearly 5,000 plant workers in 19 states had tested positive for the virus as of April 27, likely due to the close working conditions. The subsequent threat of a meatless America prompted the Trump administration in late April to invoke the Defense Production Act, which ultimately mandates that the processing facilities remain open throughout the crisis. But as Jackson-Smith pointed out, requiring plants to be open will require a labor force, and meatpacking plants have one of the more vulnerable workforces in the food sector. “The consolidation of the meat processing sector means that the loss of a handful of very large processing sites can impact a large fraction of the nation’s meat supply,” he said. More broadly, food production, processing, and distribution became increasingly concentrated and consolidated since the 1980s and 1990s when the U.S. passed laws and enacted policies that relaxed antitrust laws and encouraged agribusiness mergers and acquisitions. “This has led to increased centralization and consolidation in the food system whereby a smaller number of very large integrated firms control the processing, distribution, and sale of food in the U.S. and globally,” Jackson-Smith explained. “Concentration is particularly notable in meat and dairy, where a few very large firms control the processing and distribution of the majority of output in the U.S.” For one, vegetables and fruits that were initially supposed to be purchased by institutional buyers no longer had an immediate buyer – and a short window of time to buy another before they were no longer sellable. The overall waning of farming, experts contend, has come to a head during the crisis. According to the USDA data, the number of farms declined rapidly from a peak of 6.8 million in 1935 to 2.05 million in 2017 while the average size increased 155 acres in 1935 to 444 acres in 2017. Furthermore, changes in the interpretation of antitrust laws since the late 1970s, Tanaka highlighted, have enabled firms to make mergers and acquisitions that would not have been allowed previously. In 1968, the U.S. had 10,000 meat processing plants, and now there are approximately 3,000. Of those 3,000, only a few account for the majority of animals processed. “A recent New York Times article also claimed that among the 800 USDA inspected slaughterhouses in the U.S., only about 50 factories slaughter and process 98 percent of beef, and many of these facilities are owned and operated by the four big meat companies,” she said. “COVID-19 outbreaks at food processing facilities have exposed how food processing is a huge bottleneck in our food system. One-size-fits-all regulations for food safety and health disadvantage small- and medium-scale professors and mom-and-pop retailers.” But in an effort to ease the burden on the agricultural sector, last month, the Trump administration announced the Coronavirus Food Assistance Food Program, which will issue $16 million in payments to ranchers and farmers. It also allots $3 billion in bulk purchases of dairy, meat the produce to be dispersed through food banks. While the federal aid is welcomed, many worry it won’t be enough to revive the country’s bread and butter – so to speak – in anywhere close to what is necessary. According to the leading farmer trade group, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the aid package will not pay for livestock that is winnowed. In a statement to Reuters, the USDA said the payment program “is still being developed, and the agency has received more requests for assistance than it has money to handle.” Furthermore, the relief is likely to be far from immediate. Officials anticipate it could take upwards of a month for food to be packaged and redirected to foundations, food banks, and other places in need. So what is needed to prevent such disruptions to the U.S. food economy in the future? “We need less concentrated food supply chains. More regional supply chains have the ability to adapt,” Tanaka and her team asserted. “In order for food products to be quickly rechanneled when a segment of the food supply chain breaks, a mix of diverse sizes and types of farms, processing plants, and distributors must be included in each regional supply chain.” Nonetheless, other experts caution that sweeping changes come with their own set of financial woes. “The challenge here is that the reforms may cost more than the waste that is currently occurring. Sometimes it is simply better to let a farmer pour milk down the drain, and compensate that farmer – not all dairy farmers – for their losses,” added Vincent Smith, a professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Montana State University. “This is a short-term crisis, and so simply providing food aid cash transfers to the households facing hunger and letting the private market respond is likely the best approach.”