Agriculture Secretary wants to better support small farmers and ranchers
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told western governors this week that he’s concerned about consolidation in food production.
Farm sector income reached record highs in 2022, according to the USDA, but the number of farms continues to decline and the average farm size is increasing. Vilsack said more than half of the nation's farms did not make a profit last year.
“The way our system was set up, it was either you get big or you get out,” he said in a speech to the Western Governors’ Association in Jackson Hole, Wyo. “The question I have for [the] western U.S. – for all of the U.S – is are we okay with that?”
Vilsack said farm consolidation shrinks rural communities, which play a significant role in “the values of our country.” And he’s pushing for small farms and ranches to “get entrepreneurial” to remain economically viable, which the Biden Administration supports.
“There are basically three strategies,” Vilsack said. “A climate-smart strategy, a reducing the cost of operation strategy, and a local and regional food system strategy.”
The department wants to reward environmentally friendly farmers and ranchers through its “climate-smart” programs. Vilsack said meat processing capacity also needs improvement, and the Biden Administration is trying to support more local and regional distribution networks that cater to smaller communities.
Many USDA programs are funded through the Farm Bill, which has expired. Congress will likely be debating reauthorization in the coming months.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.