WASHINGTON — Fair prices, supply chain backlogs and vaccines for pigs were hot topics Thursday at a House committee hearing on the United States livestock industry.
Inventories of beef, pork and poultry are down for a variety of reasons such as drought, disease and global supply chain disruptions, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told the House Agriculture Committee on Thursday, but noted that there’s “incredibly high demand.”
U.S. agricultural exports in fiscal 2022 are on track to break the record set in 2021, he said. But many small farmers, who lack processing capacity, are struggling to stay in operation.
USDA in July announced a $500 million rollout to help small and very small-scale farmers and ranchers expand processing capacity, Vilsack noted during the hearing. He said he’s “anxious to have a fair price for producers and a fair deal for consumers.”
The department announced Monday a $100 million loan guarantee initiative to further boost local and regional “small and very small” producers’ ability to expand their processing capacity. While the larger package would fix industry-wide issues by providing dollars to expand facilities and purchase equipment, the loan guarantee would “help folks in the middle of the supply chain,” establishing their legitimacy at banks, said Vilsack.
Livestock and poultry make up more than half of the U.S. agricultural industry, and cattle production consistently rakes in the largest share of receipts, according to a USDA report. But “four major meatpacking companies control 80 to 85 percent of cattle slaughter,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said while testifying before the committee.
Grassley, who is a farmer and member of the Senate agriculture committee, along with Reps. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Mike Rounds, R-S.D., in June introduced a bill to launch an investigation into the meatpacking industry.
Committee Chair David Scott, D-Ga., told Vilsack that the resurgence of African swine fever, a disease harmless to humans but fatal to pigs, has made finding a vaccine “a priority to many members,”
Recent outbreaks in the Dominican Republic and Haiti have alarmed many producers across the U.S. Seven vaccines are currently under USDA examination and one “appears to be very effective,” Vilsack said.