KANSAS CITY, MO. — The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the American Meat Science Association (AMSA) presented a webinar on Aug. 29 covering their latest efforts to support meat and poultry industry members.

This year the USDA is investing $1 billion to increase meat and poultry processing capacity. This initiative is a multipronged approach involving grant programs, lending initiatives, supporting and replenishing the agricultural workforce, investing in research and innovation, and rulemaking.

USDA has four ongoing programs dedicated to meat and poultry supply chains, but the topic of most interest at the “USDA Food System Transformation and Support for Meat & Poultry Supply Chain Expansion” webinar was the Meat and Poultry Processing Technical Assistance (MPPTA) program.

With added knowledge and expertise from AMSA members, the MPPTA program will provide technical assistance on a range of topics. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is investing up to $25 million into the program. The network of help will include federal grant application management, business development and financial planning, meat and poultry processing technical support, and supply chain development.

Robert Maddock, PhD, AMSA technical assistance officer and one of the three webinar speakers, said over 100 scientists and professionals are registered as technical assistance providers.

“We’ve got scientists and technical experts,” he said. “If they don’t know the answer, they can certainly go find the information for you.”

AMSA is working on forming a technical services library, which will include white pages, videos, fact sheets and other resources for industry members to easily navigate.

In addition to technical assistance, USDA is lending a hand in expansion projects through grant programs. One of these programs is the Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program (MPPEP), which closed its first funding round of up to $25 million per project on May 11. The agency plans to offer a second round of grants for processors, awarding an additional $225 million. The date for phase two has not been announced.

According to Sara Hernandez, program coordinator for MPPTA, USDA is particularly looking to help smaller operations that might not have had the resources to act on earlier opportunities.

“It is very much at the forethought of the department’s thinking in what the next round of MPPEP is going to look like, that it offers opportunities to small and very small processors, and smaller capacity and smaller overall project sizes,” Hernandez said. “We feel that with that as a primary focus, the opportunities are going to be much more expansive for a wider diversity of niche, small, very small, local types of projects.”

Andy Green, senior advisor for fair and competitive markets with the USDA, discussed the agency’s rulemaking initiatives to foster fair, competitive meat and poultry markets.

The first rule to have been proposed is the Transparency in Poultry Grower Contracting Tournaments rule.

“Our second rule will be focused on discrimination, retaliation and deception, as we know that those are continuing concerns for a lot of farmers and ranchers in terms of their ability to access markets,” Green noted. “The third rule will focus on certain unfair practices, coming down the road.”

On top of rulemaking, USDA looks to address fair, competitive trade through a newly formed website that functions as a joint complaint portal and connects enforcement activities of the USDA, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission.