AFBF urges USDA to address supply chain issues


By Jennifer Whitlock

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) recently sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack offering possible solutions to several supply chain issues American farmers and ranchers have repeatedly encountered since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter was sent to Vilsack ahead of his anticipated report to President Joe Biden regarding agricultural commodity and food product supply chains.
Biden issued an executive order in February requiring a 100-day review and report of various American supply chains by federal agency executives including Vilsack, who is the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

AFBF asked USDA to consider action on a variety of topics, including livestock processing capacity, farm inputs, commodity and food transportation, labor and trade.

“We are now in our 18th month of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this period, our nation has witnessed vulnerabilities throughout the supply chain that haven’t been seen before. Consumers faced empty grocery store shelves and mile-long food bank lines, while farmers and ranchers were being asked to cull animals, dump milk and plow under fresh produce,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall wrote. “The pandemic emphasized areas beyond the farm gate where food supply chain systems need improvement.”

Livestock processing capacity issues particularly affected Texas farmers and ranchers, according to Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) Associate Director of Commodity and Regulatory Activities Tracy Tomascik.

Livestock processing capacity issues were worsened by a series of recent events: a 2019 meatpacking facility fire, the 2020 pandemic and a cyberattack this spring against the world’s largest meat processing company, JBS SA.

Changes are needed to prevent bottlenecks in the packing and processing sectors of meat production, Tomascik noted.

“Farmers and ranchers in Texas have not been spared the challenges over the past 18 months as we’ve dealt with supply chain issues,” he said. “This has uncovered numerous vulnerabilities in our ability to endure catastrophic events in the food supply chain.”

AFBF suggested USDA implement grants to modernize or expand existing facilities, provide grants to processors to modernize processing and manufacturing equipment, develop grants for down payments to build new meatpacking facilities, and create grants or cost-share programs for state governments to develop and implement state inspection programs.

Funding for those grants could come from the $500 million allocated to meat and poultry processing from the USDA’s Build Back Better Initiative.

A summary of AFBF’s letter and details on each supply chain issue are available at fb.org.

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