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USDA opens up trade mitigation pork to schools, disaster relief

As bids begin coming in Oct. 1 for the second round of trade mitigation, $208 million of pork, the focus will still be food banks.

Will schools be serving more pork products due to the USDA’s trade mitigation purchases?

That’s the question I recently posed to Dallas Hockman, vice president of Industry Relations for the National Pork Producers Council, after seeing an article that the Mississippi Department of Education had recently “ordered two truckloads of trade mitigation pulled pork.

“They [USDA Agricultural Marketing Service] just opened it up so that in the event that there was some need from other programs, like in this case, school programs or disaster relief, that they can offer that,” Hockman says. “This doesn’t in any way replace the normal, ongoing Food and Nutrition Service purchases for school programs, breakfast, all of that stuff that goes in place there. This is just for the potential for any additional needs that may come as a result of programs from schools that may need some. The likelihood of it is it is not going to be a big focus because most of the school programs are already committed.”

As bids begin coming in Oct. 1 for the second round of trade mitigation, $208 million of pork, Hockman says the focus will still be mainly on food banks. Pork purchases for 2020 will represent nearly 15% of total commodity purchases and will only be half as much as was purchased in 2019’s first round.

“It’s still very much focused on the food banks, which is good because that’s not a program that is normally engaged in government purchases relatively speaking, and especially in the protein category, nor is it something that is considered to be in the commercial market segments,” Hockman says.

During the first round of trade mitigation purchases, Hockman says the pork products offered to the food banks really had nothing to do with finding a home for certain export products, but more from the concept of what products were already approved for USDA FNS distribution and were available in the supply chain. Pork loin, pork taco meat, cooked pork patties, pork chops and sliced hams were just a few of the product offerings food banks have been taking this year.

Now Hockman says there have been requests to add ground pork, something that could easily be used as a substitute to ground beef for pizza toppings, spaghetti, chili and more. The product isn’t confirmed yet, but one Hockman says he hopes will be available by October for bids as it will build on last year’s success of working with the food banks.

“Last year it was all new and it was huge, and we didn’t know. It was a big offering. Like many businesses, they establish their budgets for the year early on — how much product they want to purchase, their storage capacity — all that goes into it,” Hockman says. “This was a huge list because it dumped on them. Freezer storage was a big issue, distribution, as well as just figuring out what do they want? What success is the product going to be? How do we work through it as well to get it to them because it was almost a 10-fold increase of any pork purchases that had ever been done.”

The addition of pork products being implemented into the food bank system was so successful, other proteins are now being added to the government purchase program.

“I tell people all the time, especially as it relates to their overall, We Care initiative, this is one of the pillars of giving back to the community. Sometimes what’s lost on much of this is yes, it helps on the economic side, but more importantly it gets product to people who really need it,” Hockman says. “It really helps us from an engagement side, because we have a lot of state organizations and a lot of producers who are involved in our food banks. They’re now going in and helping, unloading product, doing deliveries and giveaways and all that stuff. It’s turned out to be a very good social engagement for our producers in our communities.”

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