Guest Opinion: Upswing in direct purchasing brings challenges for small meat processors

Published 7:17 am Sunday, September 20, 2020

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By Johnathan Hladik

One of the great benefits of living in a rural community is our ability to enjoy food grown locally. Families appreciate easy access to high quality nutrition. Many farms and ranches depend on these local sales.

Like so much of our daily life, this system was disrupted by COVID-19. When work is interrupted at industrial processing facilities, commodity producers flood local meat lockers with their product. With already limited reservation space being taken up by large growers, those who depend on direct-to-consumer sales were left out.

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Longtime customers are now being asked to schedule orders up to one year in advance. This can threaten the direct-to-consumer business model and limit the ability of families to purchase food grown locally.

Now these families are joining forces with farmers, ranchers, and entrepreneurs to ask Congress for help.

The Small Meat Sector Resilience Act offers a solution by creating a framework for local meat lockers to expand their operations. This legislation uses cost share programs, technical assistance, and targeted grants to increase processing capacity and add additional storage. It also makes it easier for these entrepreneurs to meet state and federal inspection requirements

Higher prices at the grocery store have motivated families to look locally for a better deal. Farmers and ranchers cannot meet this demand without increased processing capacity. Right now, the opportunity is slipping by.

The Small Meat Sector Resilience Act will boost economic development and help families support local farms. In our book, that is a winning combination for rural communities.

Johnathan Hladik is policy director for the Center for Rural Affairs.