LYONS, NEBRASKA – The Center for Rural Affairs 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. That legislation set funding aside to improve capacity at local meat lockers, but the agency has been slow to respond.
In a letter to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, the Center asks that applications be made available soon as possible, and that processors designated as “smaller” and “very small” receive preference.
“Many of us have changed the way we purchase and prepare our food over the past 12 months,” said Johnathan Hladik, policy director for the Center for Rural Affairs. “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.”
While the surge in demand has created a good problem for local meat lockers, Hladik said many of the facilities simply do not have the space or equipment to keep up, leaving family farms in the growing direct sales industry without a crucial partner.
“Support for small meat processors can offer much-needed benefits to rural communities,” Hladik said. “This overdue investment will provide immediate relief today while creating new economic opportunities for the future.”
In its letter, the Center also asks USDA leadership to prioritize supporting small meat processors looking to improve and expand their infrastructure, which Hladik said is vital in addressing bottlenecks in local processing and encouraging the growth of rural economies, as well as make funding available to entrepreneurs seeking to open a new small facility.
Additionally, the Center supports USDA implementing grants of up to $500,000 to cover the costs of such expansion efforts.
As part of the legislation, Congress also tasked USDA with supporting a number of other types of facilities with this new grant program, including other food processing, distribution, seafood processing, and farmers markets. USDA has not yet announced when they will open the application period for these funds.