WASHINGTON D.C. — U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced Tuesday she is calling for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct a “comprehensive, top to bottom” review of the fruit and vegetable industry, noting unfair prices for produce.
In a Tuesday press conference, Gillibrand, D-NY, told reporters she does not believe prices paid to farmers for produce have kept up with soaring fees consumers pay for agriculture products.
“Our New York farmers are facing a produce-pricing crisis,” she said. “Throughout the state, fresh fruit and vegetable growers are hurting because the prices they get for their produce have stayed flat, and in some cases have even gone down, while the middlemen who move the produce from farmers to grocery stores and grocery store shoppers have seen the prices for the same produce increase.”
Gillbrand, who sits in the U.S. Senate’s Agriculture Committee, said she wants to push for a new study of the industry as a whole that could help identify contributing factors to the stale produce prices for farmers and “increase transparency in the market,” noting the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has not conducted a thorough study in the last 20 years.
“We need to better understand the market today and which factors contribute to unfair prices,” she said. “Without understanding of what the market might look like tomorrow, farmers will struggle to plan for their future and adapt to market conditions.”
The study would focus on factors that lead to a lack of competition, changes in consumer demand and changes in technology, according to the former presidential candidate.
“We need the USDA to help us understand what forces are contributing to the differences in prices, who is benefiting, and where the unfairness in the system lies so that farmers have the tools they need to grow, harvest and sell their crops at a fair price,” Gillibrand said.
The senator noted an example of New York farmer who makes “only a couple of dollars more” than what they made in the 80s on the sale of a 50-pound bag of yellow onions, and highlighted the farmer currently struggles to break even every year.
The state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets suggests New York ranks in the top 10 in the nation in production of 30 commodities. Further, the Empire State is ranked second in producing apples, snap beans and maple syrup, third in cabbage, grapes and dairy — the largest segment of the state's agricultural sector — and fourth in pears, according to the state’s agriculture authority.
Despite the high rankings, Gillibrand noted the number of farms in New York is dwindling. In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, the senator mentioned the Empire State has lost 2,100 farms in the last National Agriculture Statistic Service census conducted from 2012 to 2017.
During the press conference, Gillibrand also said she plans to introduce legislation that would request the USDA keeps an updated report of farms’ sales in order to “increase transparency” for farmers and allowing them to see if the prices they receive are fair.