Giving smaller food producers a boost
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In 2021, Biden signed an executive order directing agencies across the government to promote competition and take on monopolies. That included reviving a set of USDA regulations, first proposed during the Obama administration, to promote fairness and increase transparency in meat and poultry markets. In addition, legislation negotiated by the Biden administration is providing billions for rural communities, including at least $1 billion to help small and midsize meatpackers compete in a highly consolidated market. The laws also provide millions in debt relief for farmers who have faced discrimination, funded record increases in farm conservation efforts and boosted programs that help shorten supply chains, directing food from local farms to nearby schools and food banks.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s stump speech outlines a vision for bolstering rural economies by promoting two “companion” systems for producing food: small producers who have multiple revenue streams from high-value products, conservation practices and local buyers, and larger producers who earn money from exports and efficiency. Billions of dollars have now gone toward building this vision. USDA has also introduced new regulations to bolster organic markets and build transparency for consumers, which supporters say will help American farmers command premium prices.
Despite record government money pouring into rural communities, critics say the Biden administration has not turned things around for small farmers. For one, USDA has yet to propose a key regulation intended to make agriculture markets more competitive. If it isn’t finalized soon — and a Republican president takes power — some farmers fear that much of the Biden administration’s anti-monopoly legacy in the agriculture sector could be temporary.
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