USDA’s new food centers designed to boost smaller farms and food businesses

In a bid to strengthen local and regional food systems and help small and midsized farms and food businesses reach new markets and resources, the USDA is creating a dozen new regional food centers, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Wednesday.

“The commodity agriculture system that we have in the United States really has put a premium on large-scale production, which has encouraged the consolidation of markets and a concentration of profitability,” Vilsack said.

Farm income hit record highs last year, but 89 percent of profits went to just 7.5 percent of farmers. “The key here is obviously to create more new and better markets,” he said.

The new hubs, called Regional Food Business Centers, will help “close the gaps to success” for small and midsized farmers, ranchers, and food businesses by helping them access resources and new markets, by developing local and regional supply chains, and by providing technical assistance.

The centers, funded by $400 million in grants, will cover either a 400-mile radius or parts of at least three states or territories. They will be led by a range of organizations and academic institutions, including the Intertribal Agriculture Council, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture Foundation, the Mississippi Delta Council for Farm Worker Opportunities, and the universities of California and Nebraska.

Last year, when announcing the initiative, the USDA committed to creating at least one tribal center, and has also prioritized other high-need areas, including counties on the U.S./Mexico border, areas with persistent poverty and limited resources in the Mississippi Delta and Southeast, and “high-need areas” in Appalachia. Each center will target “historically underinvested communities,” the agency said.

Vilsack also announced on Wednesday another $420 million in funding for resilient food system infrastructure — a companion to the Biden administration’s efforts to expand meat and poultry processing capacity. These new funds, which come from the American Rescue Plan, will boost the processing, transportation, and distribution of specialty crops, dairy, grains destined for human consumption, and aquaculture products. Nonprofits, producers, processors, schools, hospitals, and local and tribal governments can apply for grants through state agencies.

“It’s going to lead to a more resilient food system. It’s going to expand market opportunities for those small and midsized producers,” Vilsack said.

For the complete list of centers, click here.