USDA is committed to working with our partners in the sheep industry to support them as they provide quality products to consumers and increase producer returns here at home. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung
Since they were brought over during the earliest explorations of North America, the sheep industry has played a vital role in the agricultural history of our nation. In the 1940s, there were over 55 million sheep in the U.S., but today those numbers hover around one-tenth of that total. There are about 80,000 sheep ranchers across the U.S., and, with support from the 2014 Farm Bill, they will have additional resources to help develop innovative approaches to address their long-term needs.
Consolidation of the U.S. sheep packing industry, higher feed and energy costs, loss of animals to predators and lower lamb consumption, along with competition from imported of lamb cuts, have taken their toll on U.S. sheep producers. In response to industry needs, USDA is committed to working with our stakeholders to ensure the long-term viability of the sheep industry. Read more »
A USDA pilot program is helping small producers reach more retail markets by making Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification more accessible and affordable. Under the pilot, cooperatives, food hubs and other groups of small producers can pool resources to implement food safety training programs, perform internal inspections and share the cost of GAP certification.
For their communities, small farmers are anything but small. Their contributions are quite large – not only do they provide food for local residents – they also create jobs and economic opportunities. However, retailer requirements and the cost of marketing can make it difficult for small producers to scale up and reach larger markets. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is working to remove those barriers by offering a number of services that help small and local producers grow and sustain their businesses.
In the produce industry, more and more retailers require suppliers to have Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification, which verifies that the operation is following industry-recognized food safety practices and recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration. For small farmers, getting GAP certified can be difficult and expensive. To help offset some of these costs, the AMS Specialty Crops Inspection Division and Transportation and Marketing Program are partnering with the Wallace Center at Winrock International to implement a Group GAP Pilot Project. Read more »
Lou’s Gourmet Sausage, a small family business run by the Vinciguerra brothers of Cleveland, Ohio, takes sausage seriously. For over fifty years, the company has been supplying Cleveland restaurants and grocery stores with Sicilian, Andouille, Cajun, mild and hot chicken and veal sausages. But despite strong demand for its products, it took a USDA program to make Lou’s sausage available outside Ohio.
In 2012, Ohio was the first state to join USDA’s Cooperative Interstate Shipment program (CIS). The program, authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill, allows inspected and approved small state-inspected meat processors, like Lou’s Gourmet Sausage, to bear an official USDA Mark of Inspection and ship meat and poultry across state lines. Previously, only products from federally inspected plants could be sold in other states. To participate in the program, state certified plants like Lou’s Sausage work with USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to integrate their systems to meet federal inspection standards. Once inspected and approved for compliance, these smaller plants can ship across state lines and are poised for bigger market opportunities. Read more »
Just because a producer works at a smaller operation doesn’t mean he or she can’t sell on a bigger scale. And the size of a farm shouldn’t limit a producer’s ability to feed local foods to local people. But how can such an operation connect the dots to successfully market its products?
One answer lies in a new kind of business model known as food hubs, which are emerging as critical pillars for building stronger regional and local food systems. A food hub centralizes the business management structure to facilitate the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products. Read more »