Vilsack Introduces Framework, Funding to 'Transform' Food System
The Biden administration plans to spend more than $2.5 billion to "transform" the country's food system. Called the "Food System Transformation framework," the wide-ranging strategy ultimately aims to improve food production, processing, distribution and consumer access.
It includes money — stemming from the American Rescue Plan and other relief legislation — for more than a dozen new and existing USDA programs that invest in small and mid-size operations and expand organic and urban agriculture.
Food processing and distribution programs will see $1.3 billion, while $300 million will go toward helping farmers transition to organic agriculture. Another $230 million will be spent to boost urban agriculture and increase grocery options in cities and rural areas that are labeled food deserts.
At the core of USDA's framework is hundreds of millions of dollars to beef-up local livestock processing capacity.
USDA will deploy $375 million in loan guarantees through the Food Supply Chain Loan Guarantee Program for independent meat and poultry processing plant projects. About $275 million will go toward assisting processors who have had trouble getting credit from lenders.
The Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion will offer grants up to $25 million for building and updating facilities. USDA already closed applications for the funds, receiving more than $900 million in funding requests through 250 applications, Vilsack said.
USDA will spend another $25 million on technical assistance for small processors and $100 million to help train workers.
Topping the processing investment is $600 million for improving food supply chain infrastructure outside livestock processing, including cold storage and refrigerated trucks.
"While major strides have been made in an effort to create a more resilient food system, additional investments are going to be needed to expand cold storage, warehousing and other components have an overall processing component of our food system," Vilsack said.
The ag department further plans to spend $400 million to form regional food business centers to assist small and mid-size food and farm businesses with processing, distribution and aggregation challenges.
Another $60 million will go toward increasing commodity purchases through farm-to-school programs, and $90 million will be spent to prevent and reduce food loss and waste.
Organic and urban ag
Rounding out USDA's spending is $300 million in a new Organic Transition Initiative that will cover farmer-to-farmer mentoring and assistance with conservation practices, crop insurance and market development.
Specialty growers will also have access to $200 million in food safety certification programs to offset the cost of on-farm food safety expenses and to enter new markets.
Financial support for urban agriculture will grow, with another $75 million from USDA for a range of purposes in 17 urban areas. At least $20 million will be spent to reduce a backlog of applications for existing programs and $10 million to increase available grant money.
Another $40 million will back agreements with organizations to train and expand programs for urban farmers, while $5 million will go to the People's Garden Initiative to support local production.
A total $370 million will fund another slate of programs aimed at increasing food availability and access to healthy foods. The pot includes $155 million for USDA's Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which attempts to reduce food deserts, and $100 million for schools to improve the nutritional quality of their meals.