In Hemingford, Neb., two new coolers have just been added at Table Top Meats a meat processing facility, to help out with storage, as the small business has been swamped with orders since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
“We’ve been trying to expand as fast as we can, as much as we can,” said Clayton Krause, co-owner of Table Top Meats. “The coolers should help. We’ll be able to hang 60-70 more beef on top of what we do right now.”
Krause is not alone as small meat processors across the nation are struggling to keep up with demand.
On Sept. 29, bi-partisan legislation to support local business and livestock producers was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Representatives Chellie Pingree (D) of Maine and Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska.
The Strengthening Local Processing Act seeks to address market disruptions created by the pandemic and allow small meat processors to expand their capacity to process livestock.
One of the problems keeping small processors from expanding is funding and regulations. Selling meat commercially to the public means processers have to be federally inspected.
“Small plants (processers) do not want to be federal, because some of the issues, which come with being federally inspected, like the paperwork, records, inspectors, all that stuff,” said Denny Hogeland retired owner of KDK meat processing in western Nebraska.
The growth in consumer demand for local food will likely see the backlog at processors grow. Assisting Senators Pingree and Fortenberry with the act was the Center for Rural Affairs in Nebraska.
“Part of the challenge is when you are building a small processing facility, there are so many regulations,” said Johnathan Hladik, policy director for the Center for Rural Affairs.
The Strengthening Local Processing Act will create a grant entitled, Meat Processing Training Program with grants of $10 million a year. The discretionary funding will be used for experts and small and very small plants to assist and train small plant operators, plant employees, and the next generation of meat processors and butchers.
Another critical aspect of the bill will be to increases the amount of cost-share USDA will pay for a state Meat and Poultry Inspection Program from 50 to 65 percent of the total program costs. So the smaller processers will be able to sell commercially.
“It (bill) also encourages cooperative interstate shipment where states that are inspecting can enter into an agreement so they can sell from Wyoming into Colorado and from Wyoming into Montana and I think that’s an important step,” Hladik said.
The Strengthening Local Processing Act has been sponsored by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, The American Association of Meat Processors, The Niche Meat Processors Assistance Network, The National Farmers Union, American Grassfed Association, United States Cattlemen’s Association, The National Bison Association, The Center for Rural Affairs, and the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association.