WASHINGTON – Last week Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture will expand guidance currently in place for loans to contract poultry operations meant to protect them from questionable business practices to include contract pork operations.

At present, U.S.D.A. provides guidance to county offices on the analysis and evaluation of applications for direct and guaranteed loans for contract poultry operations, and how those loans are serviced, to avoid making loans that may exacerbate integrator business practices that have left some producers suddenly without contracts and unable to pay back their F.S.A. loans.

"Contracted poultry and pork operations face increased risk in these challenging economic times, and this additional guidance for pork, putting it in agreement with the poultry guidance, will aid the loan officers in our county offices as they continue to make informed decisions on loans for contracted pork operations, providing opportunities for producers while at the same time protecting the interests of the taxpayers who fund the loans U.S.D.A. makes," Mr. Vilsack said.

Energy and feed cost increases, coupled with reductions in demand, have affected profit margins and returns in the industry. Some companies that contract with producers to supply poultry and pork have closed processing plants, reduced placements and declined to renew contracts, in response to these conditions,.

And in some instances, it may have proven less expensive to cancel old contracts and begin new contracts with new producers, supported by F.S.A. loans. Producers were sometimes left with debt for their contract operation facilities, but no contract to provide income and repay their U.S.D.A. direct or guaranteed loan.

U.S.D.A.'s Farm Service Agency will also issue an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to solicit input from the pork and poultry community regarding the prevalence of type of contracting situation. F.S.A. will be soliciting proposals for the best way for U.S.D.A. to address these contract situations in the long term.

U.S.D.A.'s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration (G.I.P.S.A.) also plans to investigate allegations from producers that companies are targeting producers for contract termination. G.I.P.S.A. will examine such allegations to determine whether such practices violate Section 202 of the Packers and Stockyards Act, which prohibits packers, swine contractors and live poultry dealers from engaging in unfair, deceptive and discriminatory practices.