When you’re a contract specialist with USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), you’re part of a Commodity Procurement team that purchases 1.7 billion pounds of commodities a year to support domestic agriculture. You’re part of a network- which also includes the Food and Nutrition Service, the Farm Service Agency, and hundreds of American agricultural producers, processors, and suppliers- which reaches far and wide to send quality, wholesome, nutritious products that feed students and other recipients in federal food and nutrition assistance programs.
While the daily activities of contract management mean I am in constant contact with many people within this network, it’s still beneficial to get out and connect with new and existing stakeholders and promote the dual mission of these purchase programs. I recently had the privilege of making some solid connections at the 2014 AMS Annual Industry Meeting for Contractors and Suppliers in USDA’s Commodity Purchase Programs.
The AMS Annual Industry Meeting is a chance for nearly 200 people representing more than 100 companies to have a frank, open discussion about USDA’s commodity purchase programs. As the specialist managing many of the Agency’s fruit and vegetable purchases, I valued this event as a way to further cultivate my relationship with vendors from all over the country.
Commodity Procurement is one of the many ways that AMS facilitates marketing opportunities for U.S. agricultural producers. And the Annual Industry Meeting provided the perfect venue to involve and invest industry suppliers and contractors in our Agency mission. From the new pilot for the procurement of unprocessed fruits and vegetables and meal patterns requirements for the National School Lunch Program, to the recent Web-Based Supply Chain Management (WBSCM) “Technical Refresh” and invoice procedures for goods delivered, I enjoyed many meaningful dialogues with our vendors as well as representatives from FNS.
Because we recognize that collaboration with our contractors and suppliers is key to future success of these programs, it was a calculated change to host this year’s Industry Meeting a couple of months earlier than in past years. We now have a chance to continue the dialogue started at the meeting, and more time to implement program improvements before the next purchasing cycle begins.
I’m fairly new to AMS, but not to federal contracting; and what I find remarkable about this Agency is how open and willing it is at all levels to adapt to changing needs and evolve its programs to improve services. After my second Industry Meeting, I see that hearing first-hand about some of the challenges that our vendors face or learning what new policies they favor helps our purchase programs remain nimble. There are difficult questions, and they often have more than one answer. Bringing stakeholders together at the Industry Meeting allows AMS to hear all sides of an issue and make informed decisions.
As this year’s meeting has come to a close, I am thankful for the connections that I made and look forward to building on them in the months ahead. The AMS Commodity Procurement Staff values our contractors and suppliers and thanks them for their participation in this event. We encourage anyone interested in these activities to visit the AMS Commodity Procurement website or to contact our office to learn more.