Rep. Bill Keating's Office announced today that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) would be purchasing upwards of $28 million in surplus cranberries nationwide and using them to supplement the food needs of low-income families.
As founder and co-chairman of the Congressional Cranberry Caucus Mr. Keating led the effort to secure this purchase.
The Congressman's Office said that as part of The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), the USDA is purchasing $126.4 million worth of fruit and vegetables, of which cranberries are included, to support low-income families in need of emergency food assistance. The food will be distributed by local agencies such as food pantries and soup kitchens.
Price down, growers falling victim to their own success
Massachusetts growers harvested roughly 2 million barrels of cranberries valued at more than $99 million. Right now there are simply too many cranberries on the market. Growers are falling victim to their own success, having produced bumper crops in recent years.
Supplies of the bright red fruit have trounced demand, sending prices paid to independent growers falling to levels not seen in more than a decade, industry watchers say. As of late November, cranberries were fetching as little as $10 per hundred pounds. But it costs at least $25 to produce that much, and many independent growers are losing money on every piece of fruit they harvest.
Ocean Spray growers buck the trend
Not all growers are facing the same problem. Growers that are part of the Massachusetts-based Ocean Spray cooperative receive better-than-market prices for their crop based in part on the value of the Ocean Spray brand and its associated products, especially its Craisins sweetened dried cranberry product, industry experts say.
On December 13, 2013, Rep. Keating sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack urging the USDA to purchase some of the surplus cranberry crops in an effort to both stabilize commodity prices as well as further introduce cranberries to domestic and international markets.
“The USDA’s announcement is a great example of good, smart government at work,” said Rep. Keating. “The purchase of the excess cranberry crops will benefit local growers and entire industry while providing healthy food options for some of our most vulnerable families. It’s a win-win by all accounts in my book.”
About the TEFAP
Under TEFAP, USDA foods are made available by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to states. States provide the food to local agencies that they have selected, usually food banks, which in turn, distribute the food to soup kitchens and food pantries that directly serve the public.
Each state sets criteria for determining what households are eligible to receive food for home consumption. Income standards may, at the state’s discretion, be met through participation in other existing federal, state, or local food, health, or welfare programs for which eligibility is based on income. States can adjust the income criteria in order to ensure that assistance is provided only to those households most in need.