Arkansas Farm Bureau officials said the strong response to a new $5 million grant program for expanding and upgrading Arkansas meat processing facilities highlights the need for reviving a state meat inspection program. Last month, the General Assembly allocated funds from the federal CARES Act to create the grant program, which generated 45 applications requesting more than $30 million in funds.
The grant program is designed to increase meat packing capacity in Arkansas in order to provide Arkansas families, restaurants and schools with more high-quality, locally produced protein products. The program will be administered through the Arkansas Department of Agriculture.
A review committee consisting of Arkansas Farm Bureau, the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association, the Livestock Marketing Association, Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry, the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, and the United States Department of Agriculture evaluated the applications and made the award selections. The department received 45 applications requesting a total of more than $30 million in grant funding. The 15 grantees selected will receive 79.7% of the amount requested up to a cap of $500,000 per application.
“The number of applications and the funds requested demonstrates the very real need in rural Arkansas for expansion of packing capabilities,” said Jessica Burkham, Arkansas Farm Bureau director of policy development and legislative research. “The committee did an excellent job diligently reviewing each application, ensuring taxpayer dollars would be maximized for the purpose of the grant.
“These grant funds will bring food security longevity and predictability to Arkansas consumers and livestock producers, along with economic develop opportunities to communities. Farm Bureau looks forward to working with our industry partners and policy makers during the 2021 legislative session to reinstate a state meat inspection program to provide further opportunities for producers, processors, and communities.”
Burkham explained that a state inspection program will provide flexibility and boost economic development in rural communities where livestock production is prominent and help ensure access to high-quality local products for Arkansas consumers.
“A state inspection program would allow more livestock producers to adopt a farm-to-table business model,” she said.
The following 15 facilities were selected for funding: A&C Meat Company, Hot Springs; B&R Meat Processing, Winslow; CR Custom Meat Processing, Bismarck; Cypress Valley Meat Company, Pottsville; Deaton Slaughterhouse, Caddo Gap; JACO Meats, Hope; JD Custom Meat Processing, Greenwood; Key’s Family Butcher Shop, Van Buren; Miller’s Quality Processors of Arkansas, Dardanelle; Natural State Processing, Clinton; Ramsey’s Red River Smokehouse, Judsonia; Ride Runners Processing, Jonesboro; T&A Womack Farms, Pleasant Plains; Tilton’s Processing, Harrison; and 4-M Butcher Barn, Gilham.
Arkansas currently has three USDA-inspected meat processing facilities, 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 exposed food supply chain weaknesses, according to Arkansas Farm Bureau. Beef, pork and poultry products were among those food items that were limited in stores for a time. 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.