The U.S. food supply in the wake of COVID-19 is the hottest topic for state agriculture officials, the new president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture says.

“The pandemic highlighted some strengths but also some stresses that the food system endured this past year,” said NASDA president Ryan Quarles. He is commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. “There’s a surge in local agriculture, so we’re starting to see increased enthusiasm for ‘buying local’ programs. There’s also concern about stresses in the meat processing systems.”

NASDA supports “significant funding and economic incentives” for small and mid-sized meat processors to safely increase capacity, Quarles said.

“For many states, there is a lack of processing,” he said. “There could be some opportunities for small and medium-sized expansions as more Americans are choosing to buy local.”

NASDA will be active on international trade and domestic policy, rural broadband internet expansion, the effects of COVID-19 and food insecurity.

“This could be a silver lining for agriculture as we align farmers’ needs with those less fortunate,” Quarles said, pointing to the record number of Americans using food banks.

NASDA also announced its new strategic plan for the years 2020 through 2025. The plan includes representing the industry before lawmakers and government agencies, increased communication with members and partners and boosting support and awareness of agriculture and the organization.

“NASDA has always excelled at cooperative federalism, where we have formal agreement with many different agencies, particularly USDA,” Quarles said. “I think COVID-19 has only amplified the need for more cooperation.”

Washington State Department of Agriculture Director Derek Sandison will continue to lead NASDA’s marketing and international trade committee. California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross will continue to lead the food systems and nutrition committee.

The organization met online this week.

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