The Department of Agriculture has announced an additional $9.6 million in grants and loans as part of what it said is a comprehensive approach to increase meat processing capacity, farm income and consumer choice, and create good-paying jobs.

In a call with reporters Thursday, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said $3.9 million is being awarded through the agency’s Value Added Producer Grant Program to help 23 producer-owned companies process and market new products.

An additional $5.7 million has been made available through the Food Supply Chain Guaranteed Loan Program, using American Rescue Plan funding. Bottomland Prime LLC will use a $4.95 million guaranteed loan to acquire and expand Edes Custom Meats, a cattle meat processing and retail outlet in Amarillo, Texas. Another guaranteed loan of $800,000 will be used to construct a meat locker in Marcus, Iowa.

Vilsack said one of the criteria the agency is using in evaluating the location of new and expanded processing capacity is whether there’s a need for that capacity in a particular area and identifying gaps where producers may only have one market to sell their cattle. “It may very well be that some parts of this country are not in a circumstance or situation where additional capacity is needed,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack said the agency is “cognizant” of ensuring it isn’t creating overcapacity, but also said one of the reasons the programs were created was to provide assistance during times of dips in the market in cattle supply and prices.

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Vilsack said he plans at some point during the 2023 calendar year to unveil a companion program that will also focus on meat and poultry processing. Vilsack said the agency is “looking at a creative, comprehensive set of opportunities to expand more new and better market opportunities for meat and poultry,” as the agency evaluates how it can further utilize American Rescue Plan funds.

Congress allocated $375 million in funding to address expanding small and medium-sized meat processing facilities, and Vilsack said he anticipates investing more than $150 million in this first round. An additional tranche is anticipated later this year, he said, but will depend on those projects currently under review.

“The amount in excess of $150 (million) is still yet to be determined,” Vilsack said. “We are taking a look at what we need to do to fill in gaps” where USDA can step in to provide additional market opportunities for local producers.

The 25 projects receiving grants or loans are located in California, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

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