Over the last year and a half, the pandemic, natural disasters, and cybersecurity breaches have revealed deep weaknesses in our food and farm systems, according to National Farmers Union (NFU). In comments submitted today to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the organization’s president, Rob Larew, highlighted the need to build resilience to future disruptions and offered recommendations to achieve that goal, including “facilitating fair and competitive markets, improving local and regional food production, supporting and promoting nutrition security, and meeting the needs of the agricultural workforce.”
USDA solicited comments in response to an executive order requiring the agency to submit a report on strengthening food and agricultural supply chains. Input collected from NFU and other stakeholders will inform the report.
One of the most significant problems for farmers, per Larew’s comments, is “immense consolidation in the markets that both supply and buy from their operations,” particularly in the livestock and dairy sectors. Though this is by no means a new issue, it came to a head during the pandemic when “the closures or slowdowns at several massive meatpacking plants resulted in lost markets for farmers, constrained supplies, and higher prices for consumers.” Similar problems were also observed in 2019, after a fire shut down a Kansas beef processing plant, and just a few weeks ago, following a cyberattack on the world’s biggest meatpacker.[Read more…]