The Biden administration announced on Monday its new plan to boost competition in the meatpacking industry and reduce meat prices to consumers.
The plan includes $1 billion in American Rescue Plan funding to expand independent processing capacity, strengthening rules that protect producers and consumers, promoting vigorous and fair enforcement of existing competition laws and increasing transparency in cattle markets.
President Biden met with family farmers in a virtual roundtable to discuss the plan. Also participating were Attorney General Merrick Garland, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese.
Scott Blubaugh, president of the Oklahoma Farmers Union, said more local processing of livestock would allow producers to retain more of the retail food dollar at their farms and ranches, in the family operation and in their rural communities.
“For too long, we have seen the multinational meatpackers suck out all of the wealth of rural America and put it in their corporate coffers — and in some cases, even overseas,” he said.
Producers are excited about being able to have processing done by local people and then selling directly to the consumer, he said.
“Whether we can sell to the grocery stores, the restaurants or the consumers directly, all of them will enable our rural communities to be lifted out of poverty,” he said.
Expanding local processing is critical to keeping dollars in the communities where that wealth is generated, Vilsack said.
“For far too long we’ve had an extraction economy in rural America where these guys work 24/7, 365 days a year raising these cattle, and then they transport them hundreds of miles away and the profits basically go thousands of miles away,” he said.
Retaining profits in small towns would create opportunities for farmers, support local businesses and create good-paying jobs for rural folks, he said.
Sixth generation chicken producer Corwin Heatwole said he knew he had to do something different when dozens of farms around him were closing down and his own farm wasn’t viable for the next generation.
“But there was no option for us to get our animals processed locally, and everyone kept telling us that farmers don’t start chicken companies,” the Harrisonburg, Va., farmer said.
But that’s what he did, launching Farmer Focus in 2014 to process organic chickens.
“With no other options, we started a company with a mission to promote and protect generational family farms,” he said.
Farmer Focus partners with 73 independent family farmers and is on track to exceed 100 this year. It provides poultry products for about 1 million consumers, he said.
It’s a unique and scalable model that focuses on financial stability and sustainability, and it brings solutions to the three pain points that exist with conglomerates, he said.
Those pain points are producers’ lack of ownership of the animals and inventory on their farm, lack of operational control and the tournament pay system that plays farmers against each other, he said.
“This model has enabled a resilient community of thriving farmers while bringing the consumers the transparent and traceable products that they’ve been looking for,” he said.
He’s excited the administration is focused on increasing capabilities that create more options for family farmers, he said.
“We ourselves look forward to partnering on these new programs to expand and touch more farmers and communities,” he said.