Arkansas Farm Bureau on Friday praised Gov. Asa Hutchinson and members of the General Assembly after the body allocated $5 million from the federal CARES Act to create a grant program that will allow custom meat processors in Arkansas to expand and upgrade facilities.
The grant program was recommended Monday by the House and Senate Agriculture committees, on Tuesday by the Arkansas CARES Act Steering Committee, then approved Friday morning by the Arkansas Legislative Council.
The Arkansas Agriculture Department will administer the program. Grant applications must be submitted by Sept. 30.
Arkansas currently has three meat processing facilities that are USDA inspected, enabling product from those facilities to be sold to the general public. Arkansas has more than 50 custom slaughter facilities, though retail products from these processors are not USDA inspected and are ineligible for sale to consumers.
The COVID-19 epidemic has exposed food supply chain weaknesses, with certain items unavailable in some grocery stores. Beef, pork and poultry products were among those food items that were limited. The grant program will enable meat processors to build new facilities or upgrade existing infrastructure to state food safety standards and support the demand for locally produced protein.
“These funds will provide economic benefits to local businesses that otherwise would not be able to afford to upgrade their facilities,” said Rich Hillman, president of Arkansas Farm Bureau. “This will result in long-term benefits for consumers, local communities and the beef producers of Arkansas.
“We want to thank Gov. Hutchinson, members of the General Assembly and Sec. of Agriculture Wes Ward for their leadership in putting together this grant program.”
Michael Lee of Conway, chairman of the Arkansas Farm Bureau Beef Commodity Division, echoed the benefits of the grant program, which has a cost-share provision which provides up to 90 percent of approved expenses.
“During COVID-19, we have experienced an unprecedented increase in demand for our beef products,” said Lee, who manages Flying C Ranch, which markets its products through a farm-to-consumer business model. “In fact, given this increase in demand, we have had to limit the amount of ground beef our customers could purchase.
“Right now, because Arkansas does not have enough inspected packing facilities, I am forced to book cattle to be slaughtered through 2021 and 2022. As a cattle producer, this is extremely frustrating because those calves have not even been born yet. How can I plan and manage my risk operating in such a fashion? A lack of certified processing facilities is the source of that frustration.
“This program will help local processors and livestock producers meet the demand for local protein and help eliminate some of the uncertainty surrounding access to local food products. This is good for the state of Arkansas.”
Arkansas Farm Bureau is a private advocacy organization of almost 190,000 families throughout the state working to improve farm and rural life.
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