LYONS, NEBRASKA – The Nebraska Food Council endorses the Strengthening Local Processing Act introduced on Sept. 29 in the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE).
The legislation establishes a grant program to cover costs associated with meeting federal or state meat inspection guidelines as well as assist processors in expanding their infrastructure.
In addition, a new $10 million grant program would be available to colleges and universities to establish or expand meat processing training programs. A program to offset the cost of training new meat processors would also be offered to small establishments or nongovernmental organizations.
Across Nebraska, farmers and ranchers like Bill Alward are facing a dilemma. Demand for locally-sourced meat has increased throughout the state, leading producers to utilize small U.S. Department of Agriculture certified meat lockers to meet their processing needs.
“These processors are limited and 2020 sent the industry spiraling,” said Justin Carter, project associate at the Center for Rural Affairs.
Alward, a producer of grassfed beef and forest-raised pork near Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, does business with his local meat locker. Over the years, his direct-to-consumer sales have increased and allowed him to consistently increase the size of his herd. However, 2020 led him to question that decision.
“We were thinking about finishing more animals in early April. Glad we didn’t make that decision, we would just be stuck with animals,” he said. “The kicker is that business is great for small producers right now but you can’t get the animals processed.”
When COVID-19 outbreaks caused large meat processing facilities to close, many of their customers turned to local lockers to fill the gap.
“While this created a boom to a well deserving industry, processors were quickly overbooked,” Carter said. “Today, many main street meat processors are booked well into 2021 leaving their regular customers, like Alward, facing uncertainty.”
In addition to this, local processors often face heavy regulatory and financial burdens, according to Carter.
“These challenges, when combined with labor shortages and community infrastructure needs, often limit the expansion of current processors and make it near impossible for new entrants into the business,” he said. “The Strengthening Local Processing Act will alleviate some of this burden.”
Members of the Nebraska Food Council believe this legislation will enhance local economies and food systems.
“Rural communities will benefit from new businesses offering job opportunities,” Carter said. “Local producers will be provided a reliable processing industry and can continue offering residents a variety of product choices. By taking the lead, Congressman Fortenberry supports our state’s reputation as a major agriculture player, offering the best products to consumers.”
The Nebraska Food Council is a statewide food policy council founded by the Center for Rural Affairs in 2017. With members throughout Nebraska, its mission is to strengthen the state’s economy and environment while fostering food security for all Nebraskans through broad collaboration. To learn more about the council and how to get involved, contact Justin Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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