Oklahoma increases aid for meat processors through CARES Act
State leaders aim to fatten up the capabilities of Oklahoma meat processors with a $10 million grant program using CARES Act dollars.
“Agriculture processing never stopped during this pandemic,” Oklahoma Agriculture Secretary Blayne Arthur said Tuesday. “But we saw some hiccups in that supply chain this spring, with many consumers, for the first time ever, walking into a grocery store and not having some of the things they are accustomed to being able to purchase available.
“We continue to see strains in the processing sector,” she said.
Arthur, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and Agriculture House and Senate leaders unveiled the grant program Tuesday. The grants were praised by state Sen. and Agriculture and Wildlife Committee Chairman Casey Murdock, R-Felt, and by state Rep. Dell Kerbs, R-Dale, who chairs the House Agricultural and Rural Development Committee.
“Protecting our food supply is so important, as as your governor, I am grateful for everything you (agriculture producers) are doing to keep food on our stores’ shelves,” Stitt said. “Today’s announcement is a strong step in that direction. I am excited about the job opportunities this will create.”
How it will work
Grant requests could cover such things as expanding freezer space or increasing areas processors use to render carcasses into finished products.
They said Oklahoma’s privately owned meat processors will have an opportunity to submit funding requests between now and Aug. 14.
While a single grant could be as large as $1 million, officials expect most will be for lesser amounts, with each individual applicant requesting dollars they have used or plan to use to improve a significant aspect of his or her meat processing operation.
Applications will be considered by the agency’s Agricultural Enhancement and Diversification Board and will be ranked based on feasibility and applicants’ business experiences.
Once grants are awarded, recipients will be required to submit regular reports and receipts.
Funding requests involving work done since March 1 of this year will be considered and successful applicants will have until Dec. 30 to spend their awards, officials said.
Grant funds will not be awarded to offset either payroll expenses or costs to acquire additional property, and publicly-owned meat processing companies are not eligible to seek the aid, officials said.
There are more than 100 packing houses that process beef, pork and poultry in Oklahoma.
Some are large, federally inspected facilities capable of handling hundreds (if not thousands) of animals daily and shipping finished products across state lines.
Others, inspected by Oklahoma agricultural officials, are large enough to handle enough animals and produce enough product to regularly sell finished meats to retail consumers inside of Oklahoma.
Still others are smaller custom operations that are paid to slaughter the livestock and return finished meat products to the animal’s owners. Most of these only are capable of handling a half-dozen or so animals weekly, and custom operators have waiting lists that currently extend into the latter half of next year, officials have said.
“These grants will help ease one of the major challenges Oklahoma ranchers have faced in 2020 — the inability to get their animals to consumers,” said Scott Blubaugh, president of the American Farmers & Ranchers/Oklahoma Farmers Union.
Roy Lee Lindsey, executive director of the Oklahoma Pork Council, agreed, noting Oklahoma’s small hog producers and youth in agriculture-related programs need places where they can get their animals processed.
Michael Kelsey, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Cattlemens Association, noted beef producers also welcome expanded plant capacities these dollars could help create.
“These funds will not only benefit local rural processing facilities,” Kelsey said. “Oklahoma beef cattle ranchers will have more marketing opportunities for their high-quality beef cattle.”
Rodd Moesel, president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, noted he too expects the grant dollars will expand the state’s processing capacity.
In turn, that will “build strong, local markets for agriculture producers while ensuring a safe, stable food supply for all Oklahomans,” he said.