by Kylene Scott
Originally published by High Plains Journal
On July 9, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that could potentially help farmers and ranchers level the playing field with packers and processors.
Following the signing of the order U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack announced what an important day it was during a press conference at Rustic Cuts Butcher Shop in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Iowa Congresswoman Cindy Axne joined Vilsack for the announcement.
Specifically, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced its intent to invest $500 million in American Rescue Plan funds to expand meat and poultry processing capacity so that farmers, ranchers and consumers have more choices in the marketplace. USDA also announced more than $150 million for existing small and very small processing facilities to help them weather COVID, compete in the marketplace and get the support they need to reach more customers. USDA is also holding meatpackers accountable by revitalizing the Packers and Stockyards Act, issuing new rules on “Product of USA” labels, and developing plans to expand farmers’ access to new markets.
“This is designed to provide an opportunity to maintain resiliency we have in facilities like this one,” Vilsack said. “We’ve got to expand the amount of capacity and processing capacity in this country. We can no longer rely on a handful of processing companies to do the job to make the market competitive, to do right by farmers to ensure, as well, that we have a resilient food system.”
The assistance will be made available in grants, loans, guaranteed loans and assistance for planning and organizing that goes into figuring out how to build processing facilities, capacities and assets. Vilsack hopes over the next few months to be able to listen to folks in the business to gather necessary information on how to structure the assistance funds.
“We’re focused on beef, pork and poultry,” he said. “Our belief is that there’s a great demand for the grant money, loan money, guarantee loan and any assistance we can provide.”
He hopes this will allow Axne to convince her colleagues to provide a more permanent structure for funding this kind of activity.