USDA announces efforts to help transform the American food supply system

During a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture announcement, Chuck Conner, CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, said the food and agriculture supply chain has been rocked by what he calls a “series of once in a generation events.” Things like the pandemic, a worsening ag labor crisis and the war in Ukraine have strained the entire sector.

“I would say to a near breaking point in some cases, perhaps even beyond that point,” he said. “From farmers in the field, to consumers in grocery store aisles every American and, of course, untold millions around the globe continue to deal with the impact of these events.”

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack reiterated how the disruptive the global pandemic, a changing climate and an unprovoked brutal war has been on the supply chain.

“All of which manifests itself in supply chain disruptions, inflation, unprecedented natural disasters, growing global food insecurity, and continued pandemic related hospitalizations and deaths,” he said.

Given all these challenges the country is facing, why is the conversation even on transforming the American food system?

“I believe the answer is simple. It’s what we always do in America,” he said. “When faced with grave challenges, America seizes the opportunity to transform itself into a stronger and better form of itself.”

There’s more work to do though, according to Vilsack.

“A transformed food system is part of how we as a country become more resilient and competitive in the face of these big and future challenges and threats,” he said.

He believes that’s the case because of a couple of things. A transformed food system will make it easier to adapt to and mitigate the consequences of a changing climate whilst not sacrificing agricultural production by reducing the carbon footprint of food production.

He also thinks a transformed food system will help to sustainably produce more food and allow the U.S. to meet its global responsibility through exports and donations to ensure global food security.

“The transformation that needs to take place has to be comprehensive,” Vilsack said. “It has to touch on all elements of our food system. I believe there are four basic elements—production, processing, distribution or aggregation and market development.”

Vilsack went on to explain the specific programs in detail, but all are at different stages of development and implementation. Some are being deployed to transform local and regional food systems now and the way food is moved across the system, while others are just hitting the ground running.

“We will see to it that all these investments make their way into transforming communities, their food systems and supply chains in the coming months with resources obligated by the end of the year,” Vilsack said. “Building the system back better, stronger and more resilient, requires an unprecedented approach. And that is what we are investing in at significant levels today.”

While billions of dollars are being invested into the transformation, it’s going to require consistent and substantial funding in the future to ensure that the investments of today are built to last well into the future.

According to a recent press release, USDA announced significant investments to help strengthen the food supply chain and transform the food system to be fairer, more competitive, and more resilient.

Kylene Scott can be reached at 620-227-1804 or [email protected].