OMAHA (DTN) -- Lawmakers in two Midwestern states recently passed legislation aimed at helping small meat processors, which have seen demand for their products climb as more consumers want to know how their meat is raised and processed.
Recent laws passed in Iowa created an education program to teach butchery and increase grant funding, while Nebraska this year approved the allocation of federal coronavirus recovery funds to a grant program established last year to assist independent meat processors. The funds approved in both states will help smaller meat processors increase their capacity and train more workers, supporters of these programs say.
IOWA PASSES BILLS SUPPORTING SMALL MEAT PROCESSORS
Iowa lawmakers recently passed two bills that will support the state's small meat processors. The Iowa Senate passed House File (HF) 2564 (https://legiscan.com/…) and HF 2470 (https://legiscan.com/…), and both bills will now head to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds to be signed.
Included in the appropriations package of HF 2564 was $1 million for the Butchery Innovation and Revitalization Fund, a grant program started in 2021 to help small meat lockers. The previous amount for the fund was $750,000.
HF 2470 created the framework for a one-year community college certificate program on artisanal butchery. The program was established at the recommendation of a task force created by 2021's HF 857, according to the bill's sponsor, Chad Ingels, a Randalia, Iowa, farmer and Iowa House Representative for District 64.
Ingels told DTN that while Iowa State University has similar educational experiences in meat science, the task force felt a shorter, more local program was needed. A one-year program might get more people into the industry, he said.
"I would guess those Iowa Community Colleges that are agriculture focused would certainly add these classes," Ingels said. "They will be coordinating with local meat lockers to teach the trade."
EDUCATION HELPS WORKERS, OWNERS
Ingels said the education program is a positive step for both workers and owners of small meat lockers.
A program to teach the trade should create a supply of workers for an industry that is facing a shortage of workers. Additional workers should allow lockers to become more efficient and, more importantly, increase their capacity, he said.
Livestock producers have faced long waits to get animals in local meat lockers, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some producers reported their local lockers not having open dates for a year or more.
Some livestock producers are even purchasing small meat processors in their areas to expand their businesses. The new educational program could aid livestock producers to learn the particulars of processing meat, Ingels said.
HF 2470 requires the state to create and maintain a library of resources for Iowa meat processing businesses, according to a news release from the Center for Rural Affairs (https://www.cfra.org/…). The bill also asks the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to create a direct-to-consumer toolkit.
"The task force was a variety of individuals trying to find an approach that would be best for our industry," said Dan Julin, co-owner of Arcadia Meats in Arcadia, Iowa, and member of the task force that recommended creating the certificate program on artisanal butchery. "We want more people to get interested in all aspects of our industry -- from harvesting to butchery. I hope they will see that they can make a livelihood doing so."
Ingels said roughly 15 small meat processers were helped with money from the state's Butchery Innovation and Revitalization Fund program in 2021. About 50 businesses applied for the program, he said.
Johnathan Hladik, policy director for the Center for Rural Affairs, said in a news release he hopes the increased funding helps more small meat lockers in the Hawkeye State.
"We know there is high demand for these grants, with the number of applicants far exceeding funded proposals," Hladik said. "This additional funding will be well-used by Iowa's small meat processers, helping them increase capacity and better serve their customers."
Ingels said he hopes future Iowa legislation will focus more on the marketing side for these small meat processors. Creating a brand could help these businesses sell more of their product, he said.
In addition, future legislation could address the labor shortage small meat lockers are facing, he added.
NEBRASKA INVESTS $10 MILLION
Meanwhile, across the Missouri River to the west, Nebraska also crafted legislation to aid small meat processers. The raising and processing of beef is big business in the state, which features the phrase "The Beef State" on one of its vanity license plate designs.
Legislative Bill (LB) 324 (https://www.nebraskalegislature.gov/…), introduced in January 2021, changed provisions of the Nebraska Meat and Poultry Inspection Law. Among the changes, the legislation made it easier for consumers to purchase individual packages of meat directly from producers or processors. The bill also allowed producers and consumers more flexibility to decide where their meat is processed. It also created the Independent Processor Assistance Program, intended to provide a roadmap for increasing local processing capacity and expanding market access for small producers.
The program's funding was approved by the Nebraska Unicameral (the state's unique legislator) in this year's legislative session as LB1014 (https://nebraskalegislature.gov/…). Both last year's and this year's bills were introduced by State Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth.
LB1014 appropriated $10 million in funds from the federal Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund to the Nebraska Department of Agriculture for the Independent Processor Assistance Program.
DTN has covered the issues facing small meat processors. Increased demand for their business combined with COVID-19 left livestock producers with long waits to process their animals (https://www.dtnpf.com/…).
The online Nebraska news source Nebraska Examiner also recently wrote about the state's small meat processor grant program (https://nebraskaexaminer.com/…).
Russ Quinn can be reached at Russ.Quinn@dtn.com
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