USDA awards grants and loan guarantees for smaller meat processors in 15 states

By: - January 5, 2023 7:15 pm

Meat-processing projects in 15 states, including Nebraska, will receive grants and loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Stock photo via Canva)

In an ongoing effort to diversify the country’s meat processing and create new markets for smaller livestock producers, the federal government is distributing about $3.9 million of grant money and guaranteeing loans that total $5.7 million for more than two dozen projects in 15 states.

“We are just in the beginning processes of this,” Tom Vilsack, the U.S. agriculture secretary, told reporters on Thursday. “It takes a while, obviously, for the grant application process to go through, but we’re excited about this. We think they’re going to begin to see some results.”

In Nebraska,  the U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide $249,965 to Oak Barn Beef LLC and $49,688 to Classen Land & Cattle LLC. The funds will be used to provide working capital to process, market and distribute direct-to-consumer beef cattle.

The funds are projected to increase revenue for Oak Barn Beef by $87,500, increase its customer base by 750 customers and save or create two jobs. Classen Land & Cattle is expected to increase its revenue by $178,027, increase its customer base by 160 customers and save or create two jobs.

In Iowa, a $210,000 USDA grant will help a southwest Iowa cattle farm build its own facility to process the animals it raises.

Waubonsie Ridge Beef, near Tabor, sells meat directly to consumers and has been paying a local meat locker to process its animals — typically about 15 cows each month.

Jamie Ewalt, a co-owner of the operation with her husband, Justin, said they had been planning to build a facility to do the work themselves.

The USDA grant is expected to cover about half the cost of the facility, and without the grant, “it probably would have been less of a facility,” Jamie Ewalt said. “We wouldn’t have done it to such an extensive nature.”

Work on the new building is expected to start early this year, she said.

A USDA loan guarantee of $800,000 will support the construction of a new meat locker in Marcus in northwest Iowa. Jordan’s Meat Market is expected to open this year and will process up to 15 cattle and 20 hogs per week, according to the Cherokee Chronicle Times. Construction of the facility started in August.

Loan guarantees from the USDA can expand processors’ loan options and lower interest rates. The Marcus project is expected to result in seven new jobs.

The 23 grants announced Thursday are part of the USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grant program. The two loan guarantees are part of the Food Supply Chain Guaranteed Loan Program.

The Biden administration has dedicated billions of dollars to agricultural and food-supply initiatives to make them more climate-friendly and resilient against calamitous market disruptions, such as pandemics. In November, the USDA announced $73 million of grants for smaller, independent meatpackers in 16 states, including Nebraska and Iowa.

The other loan guarantee announced Thursday was about $5 million for Bottomland Prime to acquire an existing meat processing facility in Amarillo, Texas. The USDA said the deal will create 12 jobs and retain 30.

The grants announced Thursday were much smaller in size and ranged from $44,000 to $250,000.

This article first appeared in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a sister site of the Nebraska Examiner in the States Newsroom Network.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.