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 that U.S. farmers and ranchers have encountered repeatedly since. the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The letter was sent to Vilsack ahead of his scheduled report to President Joe Biden regarding agricultural and food supply chains.
Biden issued an executive order in February requiring a 100-day review and report of various U.S. supply chains by federal agency executives, including Vilsack, who is the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The AFBF has called on the USDA to consider measures on a variety of topics, including the processing capacity of livestock, agricultural inputs, product and food transportation, labor and trade.
“We are now in our 18th month of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, our country has witnessed vulnerabilities throughout the supply chain that have never been seen before. Consumers were faced with empty grocery shelves and mile-long food bank queues, while farmers and ranchers were urged to slaughter animals, empty milk, and plow under them. fresh produce, ”wrote AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “The pandemic has focused on areas beyond the farm where food supply chain systems need to be improved. “
Livestock processing capacity issues have hit Texas farmers and ranchers particularly hard, according to Tracy Tomascik, deputy director of regulatory activities and commodities at the Texas Farm Bureau (TFB).
Livestock processing capacity issues have been compounded by a series of recent events: a fire at a meat packing facility in 2019, the 2020 pandemic, and a cyberattack this spring against the largest meat processing company in the country. world, JBS SA.
Changes are needed to avoid bottlenecks in the packaging and processing sectors of meat production, Tomascik noted.
“Texas farmers and ranchers have not been spared from the challenges over the past 18 months as we have addressed supply chain issues,” he said. “This has exposed many vulnerabilities in our ability to withstand catastrophic events in the food supply chain.”
AFBF suggested USDA implement grants to upgrade or expand existing facilities, provide grants to processors to upgrade processing and manufacturing equipment, develop grants for down payments to build new meat-packing facilities; and create grants or cost-sharing programs for state governments to develop and implement state inspection programs.
Funding for these grants could come from the $ 500 million allocated to meat and poultry processing as part of the USDA’s Build Back Better initiative.
A summary of the AFBF letter and details on each supply chain issue can be found at fb.org.