Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler sits down each week with Southern Farm Network’s Mike Davis to discuss “Today’s Topic.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a lot, including how to be flexible and adaptive. It is important that as we continue to deal with this pandemic, we seek solutions to challenges we identify along the way. During the pandemic, consumers experienced limits on meats as shopping transitioned mainly to grocery stores and farmers markets with restaurants closed or limited to to-go orders. A new grant program is designed to increase the meat processing capacity in the state for smaller processors to help ensure a stable supply of fresh, locally grown and processed meats.
Summary of Talking points:
This week I want to talk about a COVID-related topic, that I consider to be very good news – a $10 million grant program recently approved by the N.C. General Assembly that will increase meat processing capacity in the state.
I am sure sometime during this pandemic everyone has gone into the grocery stores and found some items in short supply, including disinfecting wipes, toilet paper and meats.
I can’t speak on the other two items, but the meat supply was a result of both a sudden shift in buying patterns that led most consumers to grocery stores versus eating out in restaurants and reduced production in large processing facilities due to workers being sick or being afraid to come to work.
For North Carolina meat farmers who also happen to be meat handlers, this created terrific opportunities for new customers to discover their products.
Consumers sought out these farms and small processors for meat products. That increased interest lead to smaller, state-inspected processors quickly filling up processing slots. I have been told that processors are working through a backlog of eight to 12 months for their customers.
It’s a good problem to have.
This got us thinking about what could be done to boost capacity and efficiency at these meat processing facilities. That’s where the idea for this grant program came from.
The program is limited to small processors that contract with independent livestock producers to process their animals and is inspected by the department or is a catfish operation and processor. It does not apply to the large processors inspected by USDA.
Our goal is to increase the capacity in North Carolina, which will help our farmers and also help ensure consumers can access local products.
The grant period is open now and we are requesting that interested processors submit proposals. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 12.
Proposals can be for beef, pork, small ruminant and catfish processing.
Project categories include:
Equipment and infrastructure
o Labor – Training and Retention
o Other identified needs.
This is a matching program with matches being flexible to include in-kind services or goods. Funding for the program comes from North Carolina’s federal CARES Act funding.
I believe this will be a very popular program and will address an immediate need, while also providing long-term benefits to the local economy, farmers, processors and consumers.
I want to thank consumers who are taking this opportunity to try locally grown meats, seafood, produce and other food products. You are providing a much-needed boost to the ag economy and helping our farm families during these trying times.
I know you are getting high quality products and farmers and agribusinesses appreciate your support.
I hope everyone continues to stay safe. Wash your hands and wear a mask.