USDA announces pilot program to purchase bison for tribal feeding programs
The USDA is awarding nearly $500,000 in contracts to four tribal buffalo producers located within South Dakota.
The agency said the program will offer more ground bison meat for tribal communities.
Officials with the USDA said they want to change how the agency purchases and delivers bison to local communities.
“USDA recognizes the role its purchasing power can play in providing access for smaller, local, and tribal producers,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a press release. “We’re pleased to take this step forward toward offering locally raised bison directly to the tribal communities where those herds are located.”
The agency announced a pilot program they said will offer more ground bison to communities through the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations. It seeks to align purchasing timeframes with how ranchers manage bison herds.
Heather Dawn Thompson, the USDA Director of Tribal Relations and an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, said the program will benefit local producers who want to sell meat to the federal government.
“It’s very challenging to be able to sell to the federal government as a small producer,” Thompson said in Rapid City Thursday morning. “South Dakota has lots of small and family producers. This provides an opportunity for those producers to really participate in the federal procurement process.”
Thompson said the program will benefit communities near bison herds that receive provisions from federal food initiatives.
The USDA awarded contracts to four tribally owned herds and managers in the Cheyenne River, Rosebud, Lower Brule and Standing Rock Reservations.
USDA Under Secretary Jenny Moffitt, who is in charge of purchasing at USDA, said bison present a unique challenge when it comes to federal food distribution.
“There are certain times of year when bison are harvested. If we’re buying year-round and expecting and asking for full truck-loads-worth of bison and that’s something producers can meet, they’re not able to participate in these programs,” Moffit said. “That is such a miss.”
The USDA said it will align purchase timeframes with infrequent animal handling, traditional field harvests and a nature-based calendar.
The agency said it will take lessons learned from the pilot to take the program further in the future.