Meat carcasses

A plant manager walks through rows of carcasses at a small-scale meat processing facility. USDA is offering financial help to small and midsize processors.

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is going full bore with its billion-dollar efforts to increase competition in livestock markets to help producers and reduce food prices for consumers at the same time.

President Joe Biden issued an executive order in July on strengthening competition across the U.S. economy. He challenged USDA to take immediate action to develop tools to expand meat and poultry processing capacity, increase competition, increase farm income and create good-paying jobs in rural America, said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The American Rescue Plan provided USDA with the resources to commit over $1 billion on several initiatives to expand independent meat processing capacity, he said during a virtual press conference on Jan. 3.

USDA will provide $100 million to reduce the cost of inspections for small processing facilities.

“This is going to help us maintain the capacity we have,” he said.

The agency has awarded $32 million in grants to 167 facilities to modernize and expand to be able to engage in interstate commerce.

“This is going to expand market opportunity and income opportunities for these processors,” he said.

USDA has deployed $100 million in loan guarantees to address mid-level supply chain challenges, such as cold storage and warehousing, and to allow facilities to expand their operations.

“We believe the $100 million will leverage nearly a billion dollars of investment,” he said.

USDA has announced an $800 million commitment for grants and loans to address capacity, workforce and innovation challenges. It will make available $375 million in grants for expanded facilities and construction of new ones.

“Now, we want to get to work right away because farmers have been waiting a long time for this help,” he said.

This spring, $150 million will be made available through a request for proposals for projects that are just about ready to go but need help to accelerate.

“So this $150 million, we believe, will help to sponsor at least 15 new projects,” he said.

Another $225 million will be made available this summer for projects that are in the infant stage.

An additional $275 million will be provided to lending partners to create more affordable loans and financing available for facilities that are being built.

“Even if we build more facilities, we also need a trained workforce. … So $100 million of this resource is going to be used to support and create a pipeline of well-trained and experienced workers so that we can expand this workforce in rural America,” he said.

USDA will also use $50 million for technical assistance and research.

“We’re going to need a lot of innovation in this industry. We’re going to need new business models. We’re going to need new ways of innovation and technology to create greater efficiencies,” he said.

Small and midsize facilities need the opportunity to access that innovation, as opposed to the big four processors, he said.

But it’s not just about money, it’s also about rules and regulations, he said.

USDA is working on strengthening the Packers and Stockyards regulations, “Product of USA” voluntary labeling and its partnership with the Department of Justice on enforcement of antitrust laws.

“It’s exciting work, and we at USDA are really engaged in this and involved and working with our farm partners,” he said.

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