By Eric Galatas, Public News Service (Nebraska)
Advocates for independent rural farmers are urging state lawmakers to beef up mom-and-pop meat processing and storage capacity using American Rescue Plan dollars.
Johnathan Hladik, policy director at the Center for Rural Affairs, said local producers need alternatives to JBS and Tyson, and investing in main-street lockers will help rural economies recover from the pandemic's economic fallout. It would also help more families across the state access humanely raised, high-quality meat.
"And you know where it came from," Hladik emphasized. "When you're buying hamburger from Walmart, you do not know what animals were involved with that, you don't know what countries they are from. And when you buy from a local farmer, it's going to be cost competitive, and you get the satisfaction of supporting your local community."
Hladik noted shovel-ready projects to increase locker capacity include building out wastewater infrastructure, adding freezer space, purchasing machinery and investing in training and apprenticeship programs. Hladik's group is working with Sen. Tom Brandt, R-Plymouth, to deliver investment recommendations to Nebraska's Appropriations Committee in the upcoming session.
Grant Potadle, a rancher who raises Red Angus Cattle, opened a locker in Herman when COVID shuttered meat-packing plants. He said giving more family farmers access to local processing can help them stay in business.
Big processors force producers to accept low commodity-based pricing, and siphon off any margins, but Potadle stressed local lockers let producers set their own prices.
"A lot of people work really, really hard, and they just don't get compensated the way they should for their work," Potadle contended. "And for the retail value of the product that they are producing."
Hladik pointed out making farming more profitable for small-scale producers will also bring more young people back to the land, which can set up rural economies for long-term success. He added when COVID caused big processors to shut down, local lockers were there to get the job done.
"And what that shows us is the absolute necessity of having that alternative system in place," Hladik argued. "We can't rely solely on the big multi-state entities; we are going to need these smaller places in place, if nothing else, for food security."
Click here to listen to the interview.