(FDACS) — With the COVID-19 pandemic causing disruption to the nation’s agriculture industry, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) have worked tirelessly to ensure that Florida’s agriculture producers are supported. Commissioner Fried has been in communication with Congress and federal agencies advocating for speedy economic relief, with major retailers and state agencies seeking additional purchases of Florida-grown products, and directly with farmers and ranchers to provide resources and support.
“With COVID-19 sweeping the nation and deeply affecting our economy, especially agriculture, Florida farmers are facing difficult and unprecedented times. It’s my top priority to support our farmers with comprehensive solutions and ensure we keep Florida agriculture strong,” said Commissioner Nikki Fried. “We’re working with federal leaders, major retailers, and state agencies to support our producers and meet the demand for farm-fresh nutrition, and we’re standing arm-in-arm with our agriculture community to keep Florida growing.”
Reduced Foodservice Demand: In late March, the Florida foodservice industry’s demand for fresh produce began to plummet as restaurants and schools closed. Farmers who depend significantly on large-scale producer purchases are experiencing losses as crops become unviable for harvest without buyers and as food orders are canceled.
Emergency Orders: Among the emergency orders Commissioner Fried has issued during COVID-19 are efforts to help farmers streamline moving their products. This includes a 30-day suspension of certain labeling and packaging requirements for cartons of eggs, helping producers move eggs to retailers more quickly. Commissioner Fried also issued recommendations to the Florida Department of Transportation to waive size and weight restrictions for trucks carrying necessary agricultural commodities, including livestock, milk and milk products, vegetables, rice, sugar, poultry and poultry products, and forestry products. FDOT issued these weight waivers effective March 27, with Commissioner Fried recommending an extension to May 8, which became effective on April 9.
Florida Farm to You Commodities List: FDACS and Commissioner Fried announced the creation of a Florida Farm to You commodities list of Florida-grown products available, such as fresh produce, seafood, poultry, and more. This list is updated daily with Florida-grown products available to buyers, food banks, and consumers, who can connect directly with agriculture producers. Producers can have their products listed by completing the online form.
Retailer Communications: Commissioner Fried has been in communication with major retailers including Publix, Whole Foods, and Walmart, encouraging them to keep stores stocked with Florida-grown products. Sprouts Farmers Markets, a nationwide chain with over 300 locations, recently indicated they would increase efforts to stock more Florida-grown items. FDACS has also redirected Fresh From Florida marketing funding for trade shows to market Florida agriculture commodities at risk of being lost.
State Agency Communications: FDACS has communicated with other state agencies, such as the Florida Department of Corrections, encouraging them to increase purchases of Florida-grown commodities. FDACS encourages farmers, ranchers, and producers to register as vendors on MyFloridaMarketplace to facilitate state agency sales.
Federal Communications: Commissioner Fried has communicated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, the U.S. Small Business Administration, Congressional leadership, and Florida’s Congressional delegation, urging them to speed up direct financial assistance to growers, utilize the USDA’s Section 32 federal purchasing authority for perishable Florida crops, increase funding and flexibility for school nutrition and feeding programs, and establish a nationwide online exchange for commodities. Fried’s letters to USDA and Congress can be found here and here.
Industry Communications: FDACS is in close, regular communication with industry groups including the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Southeast Milk, Florida Citrus Mutual, Florida Forestry Association, Florida Nursery Growers & Landscape Association, and other agricultural associations.
Supporting Florida Dairy: Commissioner Fried has asked major retailers to end consumer purchasing limits on milk, allowing consumers to purchase as much as necessary, a common-sense step for both retailers and consumers that will alleviate milk dumping. The FDACS Bureau of Dairy Industry is also working to connect milk producers with cold storage facilities, and working with organizations like the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association to potentially transport milk to schools and other areas of need.
Source: Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services