As program manager for the United Community Action Network food bank in Roseburg, Sarah McGregor recognizes the importance of dry goods to help tide families over during hard times.
But 80,000 pounds of split peas?
That’s how much UCAN got, along with 50,000 pounds of garbanzo beans and large amounts of meat, produce and other items, from a federal program aimed at helping American farmers hurt by trade wars.
“They’re everywhere, it’s insane,” McGregor said of the glut of dry goods filling the UCAN warehouse on Kenneth Ford Drive. “It’s a great problem to have.”
UCAN and other food banks across the country are beneficiaries of a U.S. Department of Agriculture program crafted last year and recently extended to support farmers affected by trade tariffs. The USDA has long purchased and distributed agricultural products to help farmers, who can face swings in supply and demand in any given year. But the agency is buying even more as a result of the trade fight, which prompted other countries — most notably China — to take retaliatory actions that curb imports of American farm products.
Part of the farmer bailout in 2018 included $1.2 billion to buy surplus commodities affected by the trade tariffs and distribute them to food banks, schools and other places that serve low-income people. Another $1.4 billion was appropriated for the “Food Purchase and Distribution Program” in 2019.
At the UCAN food bank, that has meant a host of extra food donations from the USDA, including beans of all kinds, split peas, pork, produce, liquid milk, nuts and dried fruits.
“It would be hard to tell you how each category compares to what we normally get, but this year we have received 85% more USDA food than in 2018,” McGregor said. That translates to 897,763 pounds in 2019, versus 486,459 in 2018, she said.
Leaders of farm groups such as the American Soybean Association and the American Farm Bureau Federation, who have met with Trump to discuss the tariff issue, say they’re pleased the administration is supporting farmers and ranchers, but that the program is only a Band-Aid. They would prefer open markets on which to sell their products.
It looks like they may get their wish. In December, President Trump agreed to a limited trade agreement with Beijing that would roll back existing tariff rates on Chinese goods and cancel new levies set to take effect as part of a deal to boost Chinese purchases of U.S. farm goods.
More discussions are expected this month. Just what those discussion will yield, or what effect any of this will have on the trade mitigation program, remains to be seen.
“The length of this program is largely based on what happens on a national level between the White House and China regarding trade policy,” McGregor said. “We do know that the food will continue through March 2020, because the orders have already been made for the first quarter of the new year.”
That means at least through March the food bank expects to get more milk, split peas, beans, poultry, canned fruit, and produce, she said.
McGregor also said that although UCAN has received 85% more food from the USDA as a result of the tariff mitigation program, the food bank has distributed only 12% more food in 2019 than it did in 2018 That is because while UCAN has received more food from the USDA, donations for every other category of food has gone way down, she said.