USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the Biden-Harris administration’s funding of 25 new investments across 15 states totaling $9.6 million on Thursday.
The funding will help small meat farmers, ranchers, processors and rural businesses increase their capacity through access to infrastructure for meat aggregation, processing, manufacturing, storage, transportation, wholesaling and distribution.
At press conference, Vilsack said the program’s aim is to create "additional market opportunities that will hopefully create more income for farmers, more choice for consumers and more jobs in rural areas."
At the start of 2022, Biden allocated $1 billion in American Rescue Plan funds to independent meat producers. This followed the administration stating its commitment to holding Big Meat companies accountable after complaints of price-fixing in 2021. Industry leaders including Tyson and JBS argued at a Congressional hearing last April that market forces, rather than price-fixing, were the cause of industry consolidation.
In a press call, Vilsack said the USDA’s funds are allocated to processors in areas where expanded capacity is needed.
“It may very well be that some parts of this country are not in a circumstance or situation where additional capacity is needed,” Vilsack said. “But there are other parts of the country where producers may only have one market and therefore they're constrained by that.”
Vilsack was asked whether he was concerned about the state of the Farm Bill — federal legislation that sets sweeping agriculture policy, which expires this year — given the current contentious Speaker of the House election, along with the announcement that Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) will retire after this term. Vilsack said he is still hopeful about the administration’s ability to get the needed votes.
“I fully expect, knowing Sen. Stabenow, that she's going to work as hard as she can possibly work to make sure that we do have a farm bill, notwithstanding whatever challenges may be presented in that process,” Vilsack said.