DES MOINES, Iowa — Smaller meat and poultry operators in 17 states will receive $115 million in grants, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday, as the agency continues efforts to shift a decadeslong trend on consolidation in food production.
The USDA grants are the latest in a series of awards President Joe Biden's administration has made that are intended to increase meat and poultry processing, benefiting farmers and providing more job opportunities in largely rural areas.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the grants at an event in Des Moines with farmers, meat processors and business owners who have benefited from the USDA's emphasis on helping small farmers find new markets and adding smaller processors to a meat industry now dominated by a handful of giant companies.
Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa, noted that 7.5% of farms now receive 89% of all farming income. While Vilsack said those big operations are important, it is vital for small farmers to receive a greater share of the income in order to reverse population and wealth declines in rural communities.
Changing consolidation trends will take time, Vilsack acknowledged, but he said without that change the U.S. would see fewer farm families, fewer customers for small town businesses and fewer kids in rural schools.
"The worst thing of all is, parents and grandparents at the coffee table having to hear their children and grandchildren explaining why they are leaving," Vilsack said.
The funding announced Thursday includes 10 awards to recipients in 12 states totaling $77 million through a program that finances the startup or expansion of meat and poultry processing plants. The awards include $15 million to Mountain West Economic Development in Montana to expand slaughterhouse operations in the state's Flathead Valley, and $800,000 to the Farmers Union Foundation for smaller processors in Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
The USDA made five awards totaling $38 million through a slaughterhouse expansion program that will help independent producers in five states.
Projects receiving funding are in Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.