retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Auburn Citizen reports that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), has asked the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to conduct an inquiry into whether fruit and vegetable farmers "are receiving fair market prices for their crops."

In her letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Gillibrand pointed out that such a federal inquiry has not been conducted in almost three decades, during which there "have been significant changes to agriculture." Gillibrand argued that "the prices paid to wholesalers for selling crops to grocery stores have increased at a higher rate than the prices paid to farmers," and that attention needs to be paid.

The Citizen writes that "the latest Census of Agriculture, which is conducted every five years, found New York lost 11,000 acres of vegetable farms from 2012 to 2017."

Gillibrand wrote, "Losing more farmers is not an option. We cannot stand by and do nothing as our produce farmers are being hurt." 

The Citizen notes that "crops account for 39% of New York's agricultural sales. The market value of the state's fruits, tree nuts and berries ranks seventh in the country. The state ranks 12th in sales of vegetables, melons, potatoes and sweet potatoes."

Tom Stenzel, president/CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, released a statement responding to Gillibrand's request.

“The fresh produce industry operates on extremely tight margins, at every stage from grower to wholesaler to retailer," he said. "Our industry is the ultimate supply-and-demand economy, and our real goal must be to increase demand for fresh fruits and vegetables. That’s the key to raising prices paid to farmers, allowing reinvestment for growth. Transparency in any supply chain is a good thing, and we always welcome USDA’s analysis of our markets. It’s important for each sector in our supply chain not to lose sight of our goal to grow fresh produce consumption, while fighting with one another over whose share of a dwindling pie is bigger.”
KC's View:
Not to be overly cynical about this, but I would note that Gillibrand has just ended her campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, so this may fall into the category of tending to the folks back home. (She's not up for re-election until 2024, so she has some time.) There's nothing wrong with tending to local politics … in fact, calling attention to this issue almost certainly is a result of her constituents making her aware of their concerns.

One thing not to lose sight of is that the loss of some farms is almost a certainly because of climate change. Inevitably, ground that used to be fertile is going to be less so, and all of the inquiries in the world by USDA won't change that.