A bipartisan group of nine California representatives is urging USDA to “utilize all purchasing authorities” to help the walnut industry.

In the letter, Reps. Josh Harder, Jim Costa, John Garamendi, TJ Cox, Jerry McNerny, Salud Carbajal, Doug LaMalfa, Jimmy Panetta and Devin Nunes ask USDA to consider using section 32 of the Agricultural Act of 135, which allows the Agricultural Marketing Service to purchase U.S. agricultural products and provide them to USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service programs.

In addition, the congressmen mentioned the Food Purchase and Distribution Program, which purchases commodities that have been “unfairly targeted” in trade retaliation.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has come on top of an already difficult time for our 4,500 California walnut producers who have, and continue, to suffer from the effects of retaliatory tariffs in India, Turkey and China,” the letter states. “From tariff actions alone, what was a $1.5 billion industry just two years ago, has declined by more than 41 percent to $878.8 million.”

According to the letter, prices have been near or below 0.65 cents per pound, and COVID-19 has led to excess inventories of nearly 90,000 tons, which will be joined in September by an estimated record crop of 700,000 tons. The California Walnut Board says that farm gate losses from COVID-19 will be near $300 million, but “are evolving and eroding quickly.”

“Walnut growers are being pinched on all sides — they’re up against tariffs from other countries, falling demand, and general chaos in food markets,” said Harder. “We have USDA programs designed for use in emergencies just like this — the secretary should use them right away to help our walnut farmers.”

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