Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is describing the outlook for agriculture in three words: strong, bright, and positive.
The USDA kicked off its annual Outlook Forum on Thursday, and Vilsack had three announcements from the agency to expand capacity and competition for livestock and poultry processors across the U.S.
Applications are now being accepted for $150 million in grants for those wanting to build or expand meat processing capacity.
“We’re looking for projects that will also benefit small-sized farming operations, operations that will help new and beginning farmers, applications that may focus on veteran-owned farming operations and other historically underserved producers,” he says. “We want to make sure that everyone is able to participate in this new opportunity.”
USDA is also making $25 million available to assist those interested in meat processing.
“That will allow us to expand technical assistance to establish an assistance network and lead coordinator of this effort to make sure we are in fact getting information out to those who need it, want it, and those who are interested in a project,” says Vilsack.
All that can’t be done without a workforce. USDA is offering $40 million to bolster labor efforts.
“These resources will be used to expand training opportunities through cooperative extension, community colleges, and technical schools,” says Vilsack. “We’ll be publishing a request for applications in April of this year that community colleges and technical colleges might be interested in looking at.”
Vilsack says that to ensure fairness, the agency will start the process of opening comment periods to propose changes to the Packers and Stockyards Act.
“We’re going to stat with the poultry tournament system and making it fair and more transparent,” he says. “We’ll follow that with rules relating to discrimination and retaliation to provide protection for individual producers. We’ll end this process with a rule outlining our feelings and thoughts about undue preference. It’s going to be an opportunity to send a strong message.”
Vilsack estimates that by the summer, an additional $500 million will become available in grants and loans to help livestock and poultry processing.