A conference call set for Aug. 21 will explain to fresh produce suppliers a new government pilot program for school purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service and Food and Nutrition Service, the 1 p.m. Eastern time conference call is targeted at fruit and vegetable shippers interested in the new program, according to a news release from the USDA.

The agency said the goal of the Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables is to develop additional opportunities for schools to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables with entitlement funding, while using pre-existing commercial distribution channels and school relationships with growers, produce wholesalers, and distributors.

Information about the conference call is available online, and background on the new pilot program is available on the USDA’s website.

Industry participation in the conference call is very important, said Lorelei DiSogra, vice president for nutrition and health at the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association. Even though the state participating in the pilot are not yet identified, DiSogra said that industry engagement in the issue is very important as the pilot program gets underway and more details are confirmed.

DiSogra said the new pilot would allow schools in the eight states to use their commodity dollars from the USDA — the agency gives school districts 22 cents per meal for commodity purchases from the USDA — to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.

Most USDA commodity offerings available to schools are processed fruits and vegetables, she said, so the pilot program would represent a new avenue for greater fresh produce purchases for schools.

The new pilot program should be on the agenda of the new Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee as well, said Ray Gilmer, vice president for issues management and communication for United Fresh Produce Association,

Gilmer said the advisory committee should give input on how the USDA can work to make the procurement process more efficient for schools and vendors.