Challenges, opportunities discussed at meat processing listening session

Published 10:30 am Thursday, June 30, 2022

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Farmers and agricultural experts gathered at a listening session in Buckingham County June 15 to discuss opportunities and challenges related to Virginia’s meat processing industry.

The forum was one in a series of sessions designed to give the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services an opportunity to receive feedback from producers and processors. The results will be used to develop a five-year strategic plan to increase meat processing in the commonwealth.

“Everybody has done a tremendous job promoting our products, and the consumer is demanding it, but we’re having a hard time getting it to them because of this bottleneck,” said Brandon Schmitt, a Campbell County cattle farmer who attended the session. “Having more meat processing facilities in the state would greatly enhance our ability to direct-market to consumers.”

During the session, farmers said more local small- and mid-size facilities would be ideal, but cost is a barrier. Establishing a business that complies with U.S. Department of Agriculture food safety regulations to sell directly to consumers requires significant capital investment and time.

“For smaller plants like what I’m trying to do, to be able to come up with the tools and equipment to facilitate that is really challenging,” said Sekou Abdus-Sabur, a Prince Edward County sheep producer who attended the session.

Abdus-Sabur is working to open a meat processing facility in Farmville. He said while grants are available to help with funding, the application process can be “a weedy, quarrelsome mess.” He and other producers voiced a disconnect between available financial assistance and their ability to access it.

Stephen Versen, manager of the VDACS Office of Agriculture and Forestry Development, said programs through VDACS and the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation and Rural Sustainability can help those interested in starting a meat processing business navigate the process.

“It’s our job to help producers and agribusinesses take advantage of different programs that are out there,” Versen said.

Participants in the forum also discussed potential opportunities to establish more local cold storage facilities to store processed meat, as well as possibly creating new incentives for current processors to expand their operations.

The listening sessions are sponsored by Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association and the Virginia Agribusiness Council. For producers or meat processors interested in attending, the final listening session will be held June 27 from 7-9 p.m. at the Wytheville Meeting Center, 333 Community Blvd. in Wytheville.