LYONS, NEBRASKA – The Center for Rural Affairs is urging members of the Nebraska Legislature’s Appropriations Committee to follow through on lawmakers’ commitment to local meat processors as they allocate State Recovery Funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
The committee will seek the public’s input on funding during a hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. (CDT) Tuesday, Oct. 5 in Lincoln.
During its 2021 legislative session, Nebraska senators unanimously passed Legislative Bill (LB) 324, making it easier for consumers to buy meat directly from producers or processors. Additionally, the legislation created the Independent Processor Assistance Program, which provides a roadmap for increasing local processing capacity and expanding market access for small producers.
“The Legislature's support has already made it easier for consumers to purchase meat from local farmers,” said Johnathan Hladik, policy director for the Center. “Now, the Appropriations Committee has the opportunity to eliminate a key supply chain bottleneck that threatens small businesses across Nebraska.”
The bottleneck began when the coronavirus pandemic caused regional packing plants to pause production, leading large-scale beef and pork producers to turn to smaller local processors to fill the void. Hladik said local processors didn’t have the space or equipment to keep up with demand. This left family farms without a crucial partner, as many were forced to wait 12 to 18 months for a locker date.
Hladik said LB 324, introduced by Sen. Tom Brandt, did not include funding for the Independent Processor Assistance Program, as the senator and 19 cosponsors recognized the program would be an ideal match for the federal relief dollars flowing to the state.
“As they continue the difficult, but important, work of managing these resources, we are asking the Appropriations Committee to follow through on the support given to this program by lawmakers and the governor by setting aside $10 million to fund the Independent Processor Assistance Program,” Hladik said. “Officials in 18 states, including those bordering Nebraska, have recognized that small processors often lack access to ready capital, which is why they have developed their own grant programs. Their experience shows we can fix this problem.”