WASHINGTON — Today, as we move into the post-pandemic era, an issue facing many industries is the U.S. labor shortage, and the meat processing industry is no different. Twenty-seven state agriculture departments operate state meat and poultry inspection programs enabling agriculture departments to be in a prime position to hear farmers’, ranchers’ and all types of meat processors’ needs for improving meat processing capacity.
With fewer workers and an increase in demand, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture is hearing from the ranch to the packing house that innovative solutions must be found to ensure long-term health for the industry.
In 2021 NASDA successfully worked with USDA to support meat processors throughout the pandemic’s ever-changing challenges, but today NASDA is focused on finding a sustainable workforce for the industry.
Going beyond labor supply, ensuring workers have the training and tools needed to efficiently produce safe, high-quality meat is essential. NASDA advocated for funding USDA’s Meat and Poultry Processing Workforce Development Program and Meat and Poultry Workforce Technical Assistance Program, which provide technical assistance and workforce training and development.
The Kansas Department of Agriculture recently hosted a meeting to bring together representatives from the beef packing industry, livestock transporters, national and state livestock industry associations, renderers, state and federal animal health agencies and academia from 11 states to discuss how the industry can better prepare for unexpected challenges.
Seeing the need for sustainable, skilled labor, state departments of agriculture have implemented innovative solutions.
During the pandemic, The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the Oklahoma CareerTech partnered to establish a meat processing training program in response to the ever-growing need for workforce development in the meat processing industry.
“Food processing in Oklahoma never stopped during the pandemic,” said Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture and NASDA Animal Agriculture Committee Chair Blayne Arthur. “Partnering with Oklahoma CareerTech to establish industry education protects the future of the food processing industry. The Meat Processing Workforce Education program, featuring a mobile meat laboratory and the accompanying online courses, provides an exceptional opportunity for our state’s agriculture industry to add highly qualified individuals to the food processing workforce.”
In addition, the Iowa legislature adopted the recommendations of the Artisanal Butchery Task Force, an initiative lead by Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. The task force was charged with exploring the feasibility of creating an artisanal butchery program at community colleges or Iowa State University to help address worker shortages and other barriers to opening or expanding a small meat processing facility. The idea for the task force followed the successful utilization of CARES Act funded Meat Processing Expansion and Development grants.
“The pandemic disrupted the supply chain, heightened interest in meat lockers and small-scale processors, and drove intense attention toward local foods. We immediately started looking for ways to help them tackle their capacity challenges head on,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. “To assist with the growth of existing meat processors and find ways to establish new businesses, our task force looked at issues from workforce training and educational programs to regulatory hurdles and opportunities to better market their products. There is a lot of optimism about the future here in Iowa.”
As we overcome today’s challenges and prepare for the future, NASDA supports recognizing state departments of agriculture as key voices for developing solutions. When federal, state and industry partners work together to support farmers, ranchers and processors, we can ensure the best solutions to protect supply chain continuity and feed everyone.
NASDA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit association which represents the elected and appointed commissioners, secretaries and directors of the departments of agriculture in all 50 states and four U.S. territories. NASDA enhances American food and agricultural communities through policy, partnerships and public engagement. To learn more about NASDA, please visit www.nasda.org.
–National Association of State Departments of Agriculture