Vilsack says income concentration an issue in U.S. agriculture

DES MOINES — U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says small and mid-sized farms are part of the country’s “muscular core” and specialized farming is how they’re likely to flourish.

“The notion of getting big or getting out runs counter, I think, to the heritage of this state and to the heritage of American agriculture,” Vilsack said Thursday at an event in Des Moines.

Vilsack pointed to 2022, which was a record year for farm income, with just 7.5% of U.S. farms getting 89% of that income.

“Are we comfortable with a situation where income continues to be concentrated, with the understanding that folks who are large scale production agriculture have enormous risk financially and do an enormous service to the country and the world,” Vilsack asked, “or are we big enough and smart enough and innovative enough to basically create another alternative option so that folks can have a choice?”

Vilsack argued production of local foods or the use of farming practices that businesses and consumers are willing to pay a premium for as the way for small operators to find success.

During the event, the U.S.D.A. announced a $25 million grant for the Cattlemen’s Heritage Beef Company in southwest Iowa. The company is building a facility in northwest Mills County and the grant will be used on equipment at the plant. According to the USDA, the plant will be able to process 1500 head of cattle each day. “You think it’s going to create jobs, good paying jobs? Think it’s going to support Mills County in southwest Iowa? I suspect so,” Vilsack said to the crowd as he mentioned the grant.

Two Iowa co-ops are getting federal grants to support construction of facilities that will provide more local fertilizer options for farmers. The Landus co-op, which operates 60 locations in Iowa and hosted Vilsack today at its headquarters in Des Moines, is getting a $4.9 million grant for a facility that will make a leaf-based nitrogen fertilizer.

“This is the new model of additional income sources, of more rural jobs, of a better environment within agriculture,” Vilsack said, “where agriculture is the solution and not the problem.”

The Landus Co-op is the sixth largest grain handling business in the country. The Progressive Ag Cooperative is getting a $4.9 million grant for a dry fertilizer facility that will sell the product to farmers in northern Iowa and southern Minnesota.