More school children and others benefitting from food nutrition programs all across the country will enjoy California almonds this year, thanks to their inclusion in federal agriculture marketing efforts.
A USDA program known as Section 32 allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture to buy surplus agriculture commodities to distribute through various federally subsidized food programs.
The almond industry doesn’t always have surplus inventory, but a couple of big crop years combined with pandemic-related shipping issues that delayed nuts being sent to overseas markets created the perfect conditions this year for almonds to participate in the federal program.
“In recent history, it happened once (in 2020) because of some pandemic pressures, but other than that, it’s been quite a while since there was an almond purchase,” explained Brock Densel, who works as part of the Almond Board of California’s Global Technical and Regulatory Affairs team.
As many as 26.2 million pounds of almonds could find their way into this year’s federal food programs. That means millions of American K-12 students who benefit from free or subsidized meals at their schools, as well as people of all ages who depend upon food banks or assistance programs, will be able to get a taste of California almonds.
The federal program is run through the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, which administers a number of feeding programs. Qualifying for the Section 32 purchase program can be complex, but once approved, commodities brokers – or in the case of almonds, handlers – are able to bid on specific orders. Handlers can establish their own appropriate price point and low bid wins.
The deadline for handlers to submit bids was Aug. 31.
“Section 32 often relies on lower priced commodities,” Densel explained. “Typically, almonds haven’t had the market conditions to justify a USDA purchase.”
The Almond Board worked with its partners at the Almond Alliance to convince the USDA to include almonds in this year’s Section 32 program, and to revisit the specifications to allow broader participation. The Almond Alliance is allowed to lobby government agencies and elected officials on behalf of the industry, something the Almond Board of California cannot do as part of the marketing order.
Once almonds received the go-ahead, the Almond Board held a virtual training in June for interested almond handlers to explain the Section 32 rules and how the process works.
“Because this is such an infrequent opportunity for almonds – as opposed to other commodities or other tree nuts like walnuts – there’s not really the institutional knowledge of how to go through this whole process,” Densel said. “Here at the Almond Board, that’s certainly one of the things that we felt we could do, to help our industry members understand the requirements.”
Though inclusion in the Section 32 program is not something handlers can expect in most years, it can be a sensible alternative when almond inventories are up and USDA puts out a bid.
“At a time we’re seeing the challenges the almond industry is facing to market larger crops, Section 32 certainly provides an alternative destination and one that is logistically easier under shipping current conditions,” Densel said.
– Almond Board of California