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USDA announces new framework touted as food system fairness, competitiveness and resiliency

New framework seeks to improve revenue for specialty crop farmers, who on average earn less than 14 cents of the food dollar. As marketplace variety declined over the past 50 years, more an more consolidation in the food system threatens rural farmers.

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The USDA plan to mitigate costs of on-farm food safety certifications is being touted as a fair, transparent food systems rooted in local and regional production and provide small-scale producers a greater share of the food dollar
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) framework was announced on Thursday that seeks to mitigate costs of on-farm food safety certifications. The new framework is being touted as a fair, transparent food systems rooted in local and regional production that provides small-scale producers a greater share of the food dollar.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the USDA's new framework will build a more resilient food supply chain that provides more and better market options for consumers and producers; create a fairer food system that combats market dominance and helps producers and consumers gain more power in the marketplace through local market options; make nutritious foods more accessible and affordable for consumers; and emphasize rural equity.

The USDA will provide up to $200 million in assistance for specialty crop producers who incurred eligible on-farm food safety program expenses to obtain or renew a food safety certification in calendar years 2022 or 2023.

USDA’s new Food Safety Certification for Specialty Crops (FSCSC) program will help to offset costs for specialty crop producers that complied with regulatory requirements and market-driven food safety certification requirements — part of USDA’s broader effort to transform the food system to create a more level playing field for small and medium producers and a more balanced, equitable economy for everyone working in food and agriculture.

“The ongoing economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic have created substantial financial challenges for small and very small producers to meet regulatory requirements and access additional markets,” Vilsack said. “These challenges were particularly acute for specialty crop producers, many of whom needed to quickly and completely pivot their operations as demand shifted away from traditional markets, like restaurants and food service. As we build back better, our food systems must be both more inclusive and more competitive. By helping mitigate the costs of on-farm food safety certification, the FSCSC program will support fair, transparent food systems rooted in local and regional production and provide small-scale producers a real opportunity to bring home a greater share of the food dollar and help create jobs.”

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Vilsack made the announcement from Hollis, N.H., where he toured a local, family-owned farm and highlighted USDA’s efforts to help reduce costs for farmers and support local economies by providing significant funding to cut regulatory costs and increase market opportunities for farmers across the nation.

The pandemic and recent supply chain disruptions have revealed the perils of a national food system that depends on capacity concentrated in a few geographic areas and requires many steps to get from farm to fork. In order to be more resilient, the food system of the future needs to be more distributed and local. Having more capacity to gather, process, move and store food in different geographic areas of the country will provide more options for producers to create value-added products and sell locally, which will support new economic opportunities and job creation in rural communities. Additional regional capacity will also give consumers more options to buy locally produced products—helping ensure food is available to consumers—and reduce the climate impact of our food supply chain.

Just 14 cents of the food dollar go to producers on average – in large part because producers’ power in the marketplace has declined over the past 50 years with increased consolidation in the food system.

Today, just a handful of companies dominate meat and poultry processing and just a few multi-national companies produce most brands and products on supermarket shelves. Right now, input prices and food prices are up—but so are the profits of major food companies and national supermarket chains. Covid has revealed the perils of a food system dominated by a few corporate players. USDA’s investments will deliver a better deal for farmers, ranchers, growers and consumers.

The pandemic exposed and exacerbated the challenges of food and nutrition insecurity in this country. A family in the United States not having access to affordable, nutritious foods is unacceptable. Hard-pressed families—including those who depend on school meals, SNAP, and seniors on fixed incomes—may have limited food options and some communities have been underserved by grocery stores and food retailers, making it difficult to access healthy food. USDA is committed to ensuring every American family has access to affordable, nutritious foods. That is why USDA’s Food System Transformation framework includes programs to ensure all consumers are able to access fresh, healthy, nutritious food.

For too long, rural communities, underserved communities, communities that experience persistent poverty, and the people who live there have been left behind. Where you live should not determine a fair shot to economic opportunity. It is in these communities where most of our food comes from; where most of the water that we drink comes from; and where most of the energy we consume comes from. USDA’s Food System Transformation investments will create more economic opportunities for these communities and allow them to retain more of the food system dollar. This will speed the transition to more equitable growth, with the wealth created from these communities remaining in small towns and underserved communities, helping to lift them out of poverty.

Program Details and Applying for Assistance

FSCSC will assist specialty crop operations that incurred eligible on-farm food safety certification and related expenses related to obtaining or renewing a food safety certification in calendar years 2022 and 2023. For each year, FSCSC covers a percentage of the specialty crop operation’s cost of obtaining or renewing their certification, as well as a portion of their related expenses.

To be eligible for FSCSC, the applicant must be a specialty crop operation; meet the definition of a small business or very small business; and have paid eligible expenses related to the 2022 (issued on or after June 21, 2022) or 2023 certification.

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Specialty crop operations may receive assistance for the following costs:

  • Developing a food safety plan for first-time food safety certification.
  • Maintaining or updating an existing food safety plan.
  • Food safety certification.
  • Certification upload fees.
  • Microbiological testing for products, soil amendments and water.
  • Training.

FSCSC payments are calculated separately for each category of eligible costs. A higher payment rate has been set for socially disadvantaged, limited resource, beginning and veteran farmers and ranchers. Details about the payment rates and limitations can be found at farmers.gov/food-safety .

The FSCSC application period for 2022 is June 27, 2022, through January 31, 2023, and the application period for 2023 will be announced at a later date. FSA will issue payments at the time of application approval for 2022 and after the application period ends for 2023. If calculated payments exceed the amount of available funding, payments will be prorated.

Interested specialty crop producers can apply by completing the FSA-888, Food Safety Certification for Specialty Crops Program (FSCSC) application. The application, along with other required documents, can be submitted to the FSA office at any USDA Service Center nationwide by mail, fax, hand delivery or via electronic means. Producers can visit farmers.gov/service-locator to find their local FSA office. Specialty crop producers can also call 877-508-8364 to speak directly with a USDA employee ready to assist.

Producers can visit farmers.gov/food-safety for additional program details, eligibility information and forms needed to apply. To learn more about the U.S. Department of Agriculture, visit usda.gov .

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