By Johnathan Hladik, policy director, Center for Rural Affairs
With demand for local foods growing steadily over the past 16 months, livestock producers and the processors they depend on have done all they can to keep up.
Their efforts have not gone unnoticed.
As part of an executive order signed by President Joe Biden, Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack recently announced a $500 million investment to expand capacity and increase competition in meat and poultry processing. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide $150 million to help small processing facilities weather the pandemic, compete in the marketplace, and reach more customers. This will include supporting value-added markets and local and regional food distribution systems.
While the pandemic exposed the vulnerability of our food system, the lack of competition in the marketplace has long been an issue. By providing grants, loans and technical assistance to smaller facilities, the USDA can address concentration within the industry and create competitive options so that farmers, ranchers, and consumers have access to better choices and fairer prices.
USDA will soon be developing guidelines for each new program and a request for proposals is expected to be made available at the end of 2021. Meanwhile, applications for the Meat and Poultry Inspection Readiness grant, announced earlier this year, are due on Aug. 2.
Announcing the plan from a small butcher shop in the heartland, Sec. Vilsack described it as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the food system. We applaud the administration’s commitment to keeping this important piece of our rural economy going.