Earlier this year, President Joe Biden signed an executive order calling for strengthening vulnerable agricultural supply chains and encouraging production here at home.
In the past 18 months, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on agricultural producers, processors, and other small businesses revealed the dangerous effects of consolidation up and down the food supply chain. Farmers, processors, and retailers faced significant losses, and customers found product shortages and high prices.
The pandemic isn’t the only issue. News of the recent cyberattack on meat processing company JBS makes the need for a more diverse food supply chain even sharper.
In addressing ways to make our food supply less vulnerable, we encouraged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to offer proposed grants to small meat processors through the Consolidated Appropriations Act and the American Rescue Plan as soon as possible. The investment can bring small plants up to federal inspection standards and increase the capacity through building expansions, equipment upgrades, and technical training.
Additionally, the USDA can incentivize the development of alternative processing, packaging, and distribution hubs that can allow small, independent farmers to bring their products to market in a competitive way. USDA can also increase funding to several established programs aimed at promoting and developing new markets for local farmers under the Local Agriculture Market Program.
Whether the threat is a pandemic or foreign hackers, it’s clear that a resilient agricultural sector is a diverse one. This is the time to support independent farmers, businesses, and local markets.