A cadre of USDA and dairy industry officials gathered at a Northeast Washington facility Monday morning to drop off some milk and chat about food donation logistics.

The event – attended by just over 30 USDA officials, dairy sector stakeholders, and Capital Area Food Bank employees – was billed as the first fluid milk donation under USDA’s Section 32 authority. Bruce Summers, administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, said such a donation hadn’t happened previously not necessarily due to a needed policy change, but rather supply chain concerns.

“We hadn’t bought fresh fluid milk before under Section 32 because we were really concerned about the perishability and whether or not the food banks had the refrigeration necessary to handle it,” he told Agri-Pulse.

The Capital Area Food Bank was a good fit for the event not only due to its location in the nation’s capital city, but the 100,000-square-foot warehouse also has a good deal of refrigerated storage, giving it plenty of space to store the milk before distributing it to local food pantries.

“We’ve developed our systems to be able to accept it and distribute it in a timely manner, and our partners are thrilled to have it, and I’m sure they’d love to have it on a consistent basis throughout the year,” Jody Tick, the food bank’s chief operating officer, said in an interview with Agri-Pulse.  

Section 32 has been in operation since 1935. It takes the equivalent of 30 percent of annual customs receipts to support the U.S. ag sector through commodity purchases. Those purchases can be used for a handful of purposes, but a common avenue of use is through donations.

Greg Ibach, USDA’s undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, said the use of dairy products in this program could also lead to reliable customers for the industry once recipients become self-sufficient, a future demand “we shouldn’t underestimate.”  

“For those people that are calorie deficient, it’s a great source of nutrition and it can be used by all age groups, and it’s also a great opportunity for us to get people used to drinking milk that wouldn’t normally have access to milk,” he said.

While at the facility, Ibach, Summers, and the rest of the USDA contingent also visited with Capital Area officials about the upcoming donations through the department’s trade mitigation package. That $1.2 billion program will begin buying and donating a select group of commodities in January. Aside from monies headed toward product purchase, USDA officials said funding could potentially be available for storage and transportation costs for food banks.

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