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Harvest Public Media reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues through a collaborative network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest and Plains.

States Look To Federal Coronavirus Funds To Help Meatpackers

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JONATHAN AHL / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA
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A meatpacker at Swiss Meat and Sausage in Missouri in this 2019 file photo. This company could be eligible for CARES money from Missouri.

Missouri and Oklahoma are both trying to help reduce the supply chain problems in the meat industry seen during the coronavirus pandemic by directing federal grant dollars to meatpacking plants.

Coronavirus outbreaks at meatpacking plants led to shortages and higher prices.

“During COVID-19, our food supply was tested from farm to fork. Farmers and ranchers saw tight livestock supplies on their farms, while consumers saw their choices of certain cuts of meat shrink or go away,” said Chris Chinn, Director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

Some of the money from the federal CARES Act given to both states will be turned into grants for meat processing plants to improve safety and add to capacity.

In Missouri, the funds can be used to reimburse protective equipment purchases or hazard pay for employees.

But the money will also be eligible for expenses that will have longer lasting effects than the current pandemic. Companies can use the grants to pay for new equipment and building expansion that will add capacity and improve safety.

“If we have a future pandemic of other kinds, I think the meatpacking industry is looking at ways to build resiliency even beyond COVID-19,” said Davin Althoff, Business Development Division Director for the MIssouri Department of Agriculture. “We have to look beyond the short term.”

Missouri is putting $20 million toward its assistance for meat processors, with maximum grants of up to $200,000. In Oklahoma, $10 million is earmarked for the program, with a maximum grant of $1 million.

Oklahoma will not use its money for payroll reimbursement or plant expansion, but it can be used to build more freezer space and add to production areas processors use to render carcasses into finished products.

Oklahoma state Senator Casey Murdock says 104 meat processors will be eligible for the grants and the funding will help avoid disruptions in the food supply.

"During this pandemic, Oklahoma saw the shortage of meat in grocery stores. This not only affected urban areas, but it affected rural areas as well. So... this $10 million will go a long way in helping processors expand their plant size."

Both states have rules in effect that they say are designed to focus the money on smaller meat packing operations.

Missouri is limiting the grants to plants with 200 employees or fewer, although companies that own multiple plants with that limit can apply.

Director Chinn said some of Missouri’s money will be used for rural meat lockers and butchers that are so small they are not inspected by the federal government.

“These are typically your smaller processors. These small processors are necessary for local food systems, and they serve a critical role in our rural community commodities,” Chinn said.

In Oklahoma, publicly-owned meat processing companies are not eligible for the grants, but there is no limit to the size of a privately held business that can apply.

Harvest Public Media reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues through a collaborative network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest and Plains.
Seth Bodine was KOSU's agriculture and rural issues reporter from June 2020 to February 2022.
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