When the economy shuts down, crops keep growing.

With schools, restaurants and retail stores now closed, the coronavirus pandemic has blown up the national food supply chain, causing shortages where food is needed and, paradoxically, an abundance of newly harvested produce, grains and livestock with nowhere to go.

As a result, the United States Department of Agriculture has agreed to purchase $3 billion worth of food from American farmers. The new federal program is part of the $19 billion Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.

“Farmers are dumping fresh produce, they’re dumping milk, there’s talk of euthanizing certain farm animals,” Dave Tuckwiller, the deputy administrator for the USDA’s Commodity Procurement Program, said during a livestream on Tuesday, according to UPI.

Tuckwiller is referring to recent news from the agricultural sector, including reports of dairy farmers dumping gallons of milk nearing its expiration date; of New England chicken farms slaughtering 2 million chickens without making it to market; of a farm in Idaho unloading millions of potatoes on their property, free for the taking.

“On the other side, food banks are seeing up to a 50 percent increase in participation, but also a reduction in donations and a reduction in volunteers,” he continued.

Tuckwiller hopes to connect food with the people who need it by ordering food distributors to produce grocery packages of produce, dairy items and meats for food banks to give to individuals.

“We’ve seen the pictures of the cars lined up at food banks,” he said. “Ideally, what we’d like is a mutually agreeable, small quantity drop off where the boxes can go basically out of the truck and into the trunk.”

Boxes will contain only fresh produce, dairy essentials and cooked chicken and pork. The USDA has agreed to pay food producers and distributors for the food, but it will be up to the businesses to decide how it gets to food banks and into the hands of individuals who need it.

The agency plans to roll out the program in May when contracts have been awarded to participating distributors and producers. Food businesses can learn more about how to get involved via the USDA website’s section on the Food Box Distribution Program.

“During this time of national crisis, President Trump and USDA are standing with our farmers, ranchers and all citizens to make sure they are taken care of,” US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said Friday in a statement announcing the new initiative. “This program will not only provide immediate relief for our farmers and ranchers, but it will also allow for the purchase and distribution of our agricultural abundance to help our fellow Americans in need.”

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