Government spending hopes to fix a market ravaged by COVID-19.
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Farmers Face Possibility Of Destroying Crops Due To Low Demand During Coronavirus Pandemic
Credit: David Ryder / Stringer / Getty Images

It's not an ideal state of affairs: since the COVID-19 crisis began closing restaurants across the country, farmers and wholesale food distributors have been left with excess food supplies on their hands and nowhere to send them. That's led to a sad situation where farmers are left without a source of income while many go hungry.

In the hopes of combating food waste and the misallocation of resources, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will purchase $470 million worth of surplus foods from farmers affected by the COVID-19 crisis. The USDA has the authority to make these purchases based on Section 32 of the Agriculture Act of 1935.

"America's farmers and ranchers have experienced a dislocated supply chain caused by the coronavirus," Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a USDA press release. "USDA is in the unique position to purchase these foods and deliver them to the hungry Americans who need it most.”

Similar to a smaller-scale program initiated by Florida-based grocery chain Publix, the USDA will buy up farmers' supplies of perishable foods for donation to schools, food banks, and other relief programs. Dairy product purchases make up the most significant expenditure, with the USDA committing to buy $120 million from dairy farmers. Potatoes and turkey products will receive the next most significant spending, with $50 million earmarked for each. The remaining $250 million will be spent on asparagus, sweet potatoes, orange juice, chicken, pork, catfish, Alaskan pollock, cherries, and other foods.

The program comes at a time when the inefficiencies of America's food supply chain have been laid bare. The widespread closure of restaurants and other wholesale clients like schools has drastically reduced demand across almost all food categories, forcing farmers to dump milk and consider getting rid of thousands of tons of potatoes at a time of surging demand for food banks and emptying grocery store shelves. Because food packaging can't be changed on the fly and distribution networks are very specific, getting food to where it needs to go unfortunately isn't a matter of simply rerouting trucks.

Hopefully some federal spending and intervention can get the food America produces to where it's needed most. Just as so many people have shown over the course of this crisis, we're fully capable of helping each other out if only we put in the effort.