USDA grant program should provide needed support to local meat processors

Farm and Food

By Johnathan Hladik, former policy director

Many of us have changed the way we purchase and prepare our food over the past 12 months. Families now spend more time cooking at home. We are learning that local meat provides a better and more affordable alternative to the big box store.

This surge in demand has created a good problem for our local meat lockers. But many simply do not have the space or equipment to keep up. Unfortunately, this has left the family farms in our growing direct sales industry without a crucial partner.

While some Legislatures have begun tackling this issue on the state level, the Center is urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to begin implementing a much-needed grant program authorized under a stimulus package approved by Congress in December. The Center is asking USDA to open applications as soon as possible, and to ensure processors designated as “smaller” and “very small” receive preference. 

The Center is also asking USDA leadership to prioritize supporting small meat processors looking to improve and expand their infrastructure. This is vital in addressing bottlenecks in local processing and encouraging the growth of rural economies. Funding should also be made available to entrepreneurs seeking to open a new small facility. 

The Center supports USDA implementing grants of up to $500,000 to cover the costs of such expansion efforts. 

Support for small meat processors can offer much-needed benefits to rural communities. This overdue investment will provide immediate relief today while creating new economic opportunities for the future.