One glaring problem in the supply chain was exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. When the virus hit meat processing plants, there were major meat shortages in markets and there were few local alternative options for producers. That’s about to change in Lawrence and Randolph counties.
Williams Baptist University in Walnut Ridge has started construction on a 4,200 square-foot meat processing facility that is slated to open by the end of the year. How much the project will cost was not released.
The facility, which will be certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), will help address the shortage of meat processors in the state of Arkansas and help train and educate new workers within the field. The facility will also provide jobs to students in WBU’s Williams Works initiative, which gives them the opportunity to work there through college to receive a debt-free degree.
“We are excited for this opportunity to grow our Williams Works initiative and fill a vital need in the state of Arkansas,” WBU President Dr. Stan Norman said. “The WBU students who will work in this facility will gain valuable experience that they can take with them into other aspects of their lives as they progress through their time at WBU and into their adult lives.”
The operation plans to harvest 20-25 animals per week when fully operational, bringing relief to farmers in the region who find it difficult to get into a processing facility in a timely manner. The need for additional meat processors in the state of Arkansas was evident prior to the coronavirus pandemic, and this shortage has become more pronounced in the ensuing months.
The Arkansas Beef Council, in conjunction with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, conducted a survey of beef producers that revealed commercial cow-calf producers will be in demand in the future.
In addition to the economic benefits of the processing plant, it will also serve as an education facility to train others in meat processing who can create additional facilities throughout the state. The certification program will be open to any interested persons, including those not enrolled in degree programs at WBU.
Students in the Williams Works initiative will provide much of the workforce needed to run the facility. Students in the initiative work 16 hours a week through the fall and spring semesters and in exchange for their work hours, have their cost of tuition and much of their fees covered. In addition, students have the opportunity to work through the summer to have their room and board covered for the following year, giving them an opportunity to graduate debt-free.