Special to The Banner-News
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the Biden-Harris Administration is investing $89 million across the country (PDF, 160 KB) to finance the startup and expansion of independent meat processors. USDA also announced initial steps the Department is taking to create a more competitive marketplace for seeds and other agricultural inputs.
The $89 million of investments announced today support the Biden-Harris Administration's Action Plan for a Fairer, More Competitive, and More Resilient Meat and Poultry Supply Chain, which dedicates resources to expand independent processing capacity. As President Biden has highlighted, creating fairer markets and more opportunities for family farmers helps bring down prices at the grocery store.
"Under President Biden's leadership, USDA is laser-focused on standing up for America's farmers and ranchers by expanding processing capacity, creating fairer markets, and more revenue streams and market opportunities, which helps bring down food costs for families at the grocery store," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.
"Today's investments and actions to back the startup and expansion of independent processing capacity and boost market fairness in seeds and other key agricultural inputs will promote competition, support producer income, strengthen the supply chain, and increase economic opportunity in rural communities."
Secretary Vilsack announced the new investments at the National Farmers Union convention in San Francisco. USDA is providing $89 million in grants under the Meat and Poultry Intermediary Lending Program (MPILP) to increase available financing for independent processors, alleviate bottlenecks, and create opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs in rural communities. The investments are being made under the second round of the program. Last fall, USDA awarded $75 million in grants to eight nonprofit lenders in seven states under the first round of MPILP.
Nonprofit lenders in seven states will use the funding to establish revolving loan funds to finance the startup, expansion and operation of meat and poultry processors. USDA is making the investments in Alabama, Georgia, Maine, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
In Alabama, the Alabama Agricultural Development Authority is receiving $15 million to finance 12 processing facilities and help a Tribal entity build a facility. The funds will benefit Madison, Blount, Dallas, Lowndes, Marshall, Mobile, Covington, Cullman, DeKalb and Lauderdale counties and will create at least 145 jobs.
In Maine, Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI) is receiving $8 million to help livestock and poultry processors in New England get access to capital and technical assistance to increase meat processing capacity. Coastal Enterprises will continue to leverage its decades of food-focused lending to help build a vibrant and resilient future for meat and poultry processors in New England.
In North Dakota, Lewis and Clark Development Group is receiving $5 million to support the expansion of meat and poultry processing. The funds will focus on increasing capacity and diversifying America's food supply chain while furthering economic opportunity with Cloverdale Foods. Lewis and Clark has a 20-year relationship with Cloverdale Foods, which has a long history of investing in local communities and supporting local pork and cattle producers. The funds will support Cloverdale's plan for growth over the next three years. This assistance is expected to create 225 jobs.
Additional information on MPILP is available at www.usda.gov/meat.
Creating a Fairer Market for Seeds, Other Agricultural Inputs
USDA today released a report, titled "More and Better Choices for Farmers: Promoting Fair Competition and Innovation in Seeds and Other Agricultural Inputs," that includes recommendations for improving market fairness. USDA is taking immediate action on three of these recommendations:
USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is standing up a new Farmer Seed Liaison, which will deliver on report recommendations. Specifically, the Seed Liaison will boost transparency and reduce confusion in a complex seed system by helping facilitate communication between farmers and plant breeders and the patent system.
USDA and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) are forming a Working Group on IP & Competition in Seeds and Other Agricultural Inputs, where USDA and USPTO, together with the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, will work to promote fair competition in the seed market.
Additionally, AMS is releasing today a Notice to Trade regarding compliance with disclosing the kind and variety of seeds under the Federal Seed Act. The Notice underscores that farmers and seed businesses should know the kind and variety of the seed that they are getting from producers. USDA will also expand its FarmerFairness.gov portal to enable farmers and seed businesses to report tips and complaints related to competition and consumer protection in the seed markets.
The report also underscores the importance of public investment in plant breeding to promote resiliency and competition and enable farmers to better adapt to local and regional needs.
As part of its efforts to enhance fair and competitive markets, and in response to President Biden's historic Executive Order on "Promoting Competition in the American Economy," USDA sought input from the public about the impacts of concentration, market power, and intellectual property in the market for seeds and other agricultural inputs. In particular, this focused on the effects to competition and market access for farmers, seed businesses, and other new and growing market competitors, especially small and medium-sized enterprises. USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service partnered with the University of Wisconsin to summarize the findings outlined in the report. The report reflects significant consultation across USDA and with USPTO's Director and staff, Department of Justice Antitrust, and the Federal Trade Commission.
USDA and its academic cooperator, Dr. Julie Dawson, a plant scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, utilized comments received during the public comment period and listening session to inform this report. The report focuses on three ways to provide more and better seed choices to farmers: 1) working with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to enhance robust and reliable intellectual property rights that appropriately take into consideration the farmer's and plant breeder's voice and expertise, 2) ensuring that seed businesses are engaged in fair competition and are not unfairly taking advantage of market power, and 3) investing in the critical national infrastructure of more diverse seed variety development and stewardship to address local and regional food system needs and build greater resiliency into our food supply chains. In each of these sections, the report analyzes the current situation and makes recommendations that the U.S. Government can implement to promote fair competition and innovation.
More information is available on the AMS Fair and Competitive Markets webpage.
These initiatives are part of the Biden-Harris Administration's whole-of-government efforts to promote fair competition, innovation, and resiliency across food and agriculture, and parallel efforts by USDA to promote more and better choices for farmers by: investing more than $1 billion in more competitive meat and poultry processing options and $500 million in new domestic sustainable fertilizer capacity; enhancing transparency and modernizing competition enforcement through new Packers & Stockyards Act rules, a Cattle Contract Library Pilot, and more; and enabling farmers and ranchers to better secure value from their products such as through the proposed rule on Product of USA also announced today.
USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. Under the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America's food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, promoting competition and fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate-smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov.