U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, and Congressman John Salazar today applauded the U.S. Department of Agriculture for its decision to purchase up to $9 million of surplus fresh potatoes and up to $21.9 million of surplus fresh fruits for federal food nutrition assistance programs.
The USDA's decision, announced today by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, will provide immediate relief for Colorado potato farmers struggling in the face of low commodity prices and a growing surplus of their product. Colorado is one of the top five potato-producing states in the country, and these funds will help support Colorado's rural economy by putting revenue directly in the hands of potato farmers, which can help stimulate the local economy.
"This critical move by USDA will not only help Colorado's potato farmers weather low prices, but it will help get fresh, nutritious food to school children and families in need across the state," Senator Udall said. "Especially in periods of economic uncertainty, farmers need reliable markets for their produce, and all Americans should know where their next meal will come from. The Secretary's program will empower both of these groups. This is good policy at the right time, and I commend Secretary Vilsack for his initiative."
"USDA's decision will help Colorado's potato growers in a year when the combination of high inventories and low prices could cause significant losses," said Bennet. "The USDA was right to take swift action to help growers in Colorado and around the country during difficult economic times; additionally, these funds will help revitalize rural economies by increasing Colorado growers revenue, which is good for local businesses and the economy.
"As a lifelong Colorado farmer and rancher I know how difficult it can be to have to sit on surplus crops and as the father of three I know how important it is that our kids get healthy produce as part of their school lunch program," said Congressman Salazar. "This decision will provide financial support for farmers and healthy food for our children. I thank the Department of Agriculture for taking this step."
In December, Bennet sent a letter to Rayne Pegg, Administrator of the Agricultural Market Service, urging the agency to use its existing authority under the USDA's bonus commodities program to remove surplus products from the market and, in doing so, help avoid significant losses for growers in Colorado and across the country.
Despite the attempts the U.S. potato industry has taken to avoid a surplus of potatoes, the surplus is particularly acute in Colorado where the 2009 crop year yield was 6.1 percent higher than the average crop yield between 2004 and 2008. This surplus, combined with low prices and limited new market opportunities for fresh potatoes, has made 2010 a tough year for many of Colorado's potato farmers.
In addition to potatoes, the USDA will purchase up to $20.1 million worth of blueberry, pear, peach and mixed fruit products. These healthy food purchases will go to support the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Summer Food Service Program, the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program and The Emergency Food Assistance Program, programs that frequently provide food to children in need.