SD receives grants to help small meat processors
Wed, 07/05/2023 - 3:26pm admin
Robin Opsahl and Searchlight Staff
A new round of federal grants to help smaller meat and poultry processors fight industry consolidation includes $15 million for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and $834,000 for a five-state region including South Dakota.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide $115 million in total grants, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced recently.
Vilsack held a roundtable with producers and businesses last week in Des Moines. He announced 15 awards in 17 states aimed at growing independent processing plants’ capacities, starting up new plants and expanding rural workforces.
The grant for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe will go toward a revolving loan fund to support the meat and poultry industry within the reservation’s eight districts. The Oyate Community Development Corporation will administer the fund.
The $834,000 grant for the Farmers Union Foundation will go toward a revolving loan fund for independent small- and medium-sized meat processors. The money will be available for use throughout a five-state region of Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
The grants are part of a $1 billion initiative from President Joe Biden’s administration to make the meatpacking industry more competitive. Currently, four corporations process 85% of the nation’s beef supply.
The grants are also part of President Joe Biden’s pitch on “Bidenomics” heading into the 2024 presidential campaign. Biden last week touted initiatives like the Inflation Reduction Act and the American Rescue Plan that he said helped the American economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those policies are focused on helping middle-class Americans and small businesses, Biden said. Vilsack told reporters the new USDA investments are focused on helping those same groups in the food industry as a part of the Biden administration’s “Investing in America” agenda.
“While American farmers and ranchers have been responding to the demand to produce more, their communities have struggled to see their share of the benefits,” Vilsack said in a news release.
Vilsack said that in 2022, 89% of all farming income went to 7.5% of farms — a breakdown even the farms benefitting from the current system would likely find unfair, he said. He said small and mid-sized farms are the “muscular core” of the country’s agriculture system, and that these grants go toward strengthening those producers.
There was some discussion of more funding for these projects, but the debt ceiling negotiations stymied some of the USDA’s expected investments, he said. But providing more support to these smaller organizations is necessary to help bring costs of food and agriculture production down, he said, to help combat inflation and prevent situations like the rapid increase in fertilizer costs due to the Russia-Ukraine war from occurring in the future.
“Are we comfortable with a situation where income continues to be concentrated, with the understanding that folks who are large-scale production agriculture have enormous risk financially … or are we big enough and smart enough and innovative enough to basically create another alternative option so that folks can have a choice?” Vilsack said.
The former Iowa governor also said he expects to see Congress to move on a farm bill by the end of the year.
“The interesting thing about agriculture is its under-appreciated aspect of every state economy. You can go to any state in the country and what you’re gonna find is agriculture is the top part of the economy,” he told reporters. “… and as a result of that, I think there’s an understanding and appreciation of the need to get a farm bill done.”