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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on Wednesday details of the Biden administration’s plan for a framework to transform the food system. The USDA claims the plan would benefit consumers, producers and rural communities by providing more options, increasing access, and creating new, more, and better markets for small and mid-size producers.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled the $2 billion plan in a speech in Ohio on Wednesday. He said the plan is paid out of the American Rescue Act and other COVID-19 relief bills.

The Biden administration says that the plan strengthens critical supply chains and addresses longstanding structural challenges that were revealed and intensified by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

The stated goals of the USDA’s Food System Transformation framework include:

Building a more resilient food supply chain that provides more and better market options for consumers and producers while reducing carbon pollution.

Creating a fairer food system that combats market dominance and helps producers and consumers gain more power in the marketplace by creating new, more and better local market options.

Making nutritious food more accessible and affordable for consumers.

Emphasizing equity by creating more economic opportunities for these communities and allow them to retain more of the food system dollar. This will speed the transition to more equitable growth, with the wealth created from these communities remaining in small towns and underserved communities, helping to lift them out of poverty.

The USDA says that today’s announcement supports the Biden-Harris Administration’s broader work to strengthen critical supply chains as directed by Executive Order 14017 America's Supply Chains. Funding is provided by the American Rescue Plan Act and other relief legislation.

“We know that small and mid-size operations struggle in particular and there are still too many barriers to entry for new farmers,” USDA announced. “USDA is focused on increasing options for American farmers to process locally, sell locally, and adopt practices that are both good for their businesses and the climate.”

The plan includes

  • ·         Up to $300 million in a new Organic Transition Initiative to provide comprehensive support for farmers to transition to organic production.

  • ·         Up to $75 million to support urban agriculture. USDA will invest $20 million in funding a backlog of applications as well as an additional $10 million increase in money available for the 2022 funding year. Additionally, USDA will invest $40 million in cooperative agreements with organizations to support outreach and training activities for urban farmers.

  • ·         Deployment of up to $375 million in support for independent meat and poultry processing plant projects. These investments will be made in two phases. The first phase of the Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program will deploy $150 million in grants up to $25 million each to expand processing capacity through a variety of activities, including but not limited to construction, expansion of existing facilities, and acquisition of equipment. The first phase recently closed, accepting more than 200 applications, representing more than $800 million in funding requests.

  • ·         Investment of up to $275 million in partnership with lenders to address the credit access gap for meat and poultry processing projects.

  • ·         Investment of up to $100 million to support development of a pipeline of well-trained workers and safe workplaces in the processing sector.

  • ·         $200 million for Food Safety Certification for Specialty Crops Program for specialty crop operations that incur eligible on-farm food safety program expenses.

  • ·         Up to $600 million in financial assistance to support food supply chain infrastructure that is not covered by the meat and poultry processing program.

  • ·         Investment of $400 million to create regional food business centers that will provide coordination, technical assistance, and capacity building support to small and mid-size food and farm businesses, particularly focused on processing, distribution and aggregation, and market access challenges.

  • ·         Investing up to $90 million to prevent and reduce food loss and waste. USDA will invest an additional $30 million in the Community Compost and Food Waste Reduction Program and will fund a feasibility study and corresponding actions that will support a National Food Loss and Waste Strategy.

  • ·         Increase funding to the Healthy Food Financing Initiative by $155 million.

  • ·         An additional $50 million in the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program. This program supports nutrition security for seniors by increasing access to locally grown fruit and vegetables. Current levels of funding for this program are insufficient for all states to provide the maximum benefit of $50 per participant per season.

  • ·         An additional $40 million in the GusNIP Produce Prescriptions Program. This program funds projects that demonstrate and evaluate the impacts of fresh produce prescriptions to increase fresh fruit and vegetable consumption, improve health, and reduce food insecurity.

  • ·         $25 million to support SNAP technology improvements to modernize the delivery of incentive programs through SNAP’s electronic benefit transfer (EBT) technology.

  • ·         $100 million to create a new Healthy Food Incentive Fund, which will support school food authorities to innovate and accelerate their efforts to improve the nutritional quality of school meals to children. With these funds USDA will support peer-to-peer learning and recognize local programs for their leadership, excellence and efforts to deliver health nutritious food.

These investments build on previous announcements including a $130 million increase to the Local Agriculture Marketing Program, which will fund activities that expand and strengthen opportunities for local and regional food producers to sell to institutions, such as universities, hospitals, and settings operated by local, tribal, and state governments. To learn more about the plan visit USDA’s full release.

These initiatives use funds that have already been appropriated by Congress so little of this should require additional congressional action.

Agriculture is one of the largest industries in Alabama.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email brandon.moseley@1819News.com.

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