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PANORA, IOWA — As inflation rates keeps prices at the grocery store high, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced new loans to attempt to make the markets more competitive.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack was in Panora on Friday to announce an $11.1 million investment into a local company that produces freeze-dried egg products.

“We set aside a hundred million dollars of the American Rescue Plan to set up this guaranteed loan program,” said Vilsack.

The funding is through a program USDA created called the Food Supply Chain Guaranteed Loan Program, made possible by the ARPA.

Crystal Freeze Dry has been in Panora for five years and this millions of dollars in a federal loan will help them reach new markets.

“So, we’re very excited it’ going to help us quite a bit expand our capacity,” said Leonardo Etcheto, CEO of Crystal Freeze Dry. “Especially the very beginning of our process with the liquid processing so we have done a lot of investment already done on how we dry, but we didn’t have quite as much on how we handle the liquid.”

The investment will allow the company to hire five new employees and expand their market reach to Puerto Rico.

Crystal Freeze Dry has been helping feed the military for two decades and 50% of their business comes from the government. Etchceto takes great pride in being able to help out the nation’s troops.

“So, this will be the kind of thing the cooks will have out in the plains of Poland or the hills of Afghanistan, to feed the troops,” said Etcheto as he held up a bag full of freeze-dried egg, enough to feed 25 soldiers.

The goal of this loan program is to invest into smaller agriculture manufacturers so prices can become competitive and reduce the costs at the grocery store.

“I know a lot of folks are talking about the high prices in stores right now and I see it in my own home,” said Rep. Cindy Axne, (D) IA-03. “We know that this administration is looking to help us reduce those prices by bringing in things like regional processing to keep those meat prices down.”

“The goal here is to not necessarily support the larger processing facilities, the big four that currently dominate the market,” said Vilsack. “We’re going to sponsor, and we are going to help independently-owned, farmer-owned, cooperatively-owned facilities.”

Vilsack added that they hope to make more investment announcements across the country in November.