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Beef, dairy farmers win with new processing plants

John P Kelly/Getty Images Hereford cattle
CATTLE OPTIONS: 2021 saw an added investment in processing plants, providing Missouri’s beef and dairy farmers with a place to market animals.
Ag Matters: Missouri’s beef industry grows with an investment in processing facilities.

The day before writing this column, I joined Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on a conference call with officials from three Israeli companies looking for a place to bring jobs and technology to the U.S.

The technology could be impactful for the beef and dairy sectors, two areas of strength for Missouri. The jobs, well, you understand the importance of creating new jobs in our state.

I’m proud to say that these potential new businesses are a continuation of exciting news about jobs and expansion in 2021.

New processors choose Missouri

In November, we were thrilled to learn that family-owned American Foods Group had chosen Missouri, specifically Warren County, for a new, state-of-the-art beef processing facility. At full capacity, the plant will employee 1,300 people and process 2,400 head per day.

This project was the result of a team effort from the local community, as well as the Missouri departments of Economic Development, Natural Resources and Agriculture. The entire region will benefit from the new plant, and we are excited to watch it develop from the ground up.

Last spring, Missouri Prime Beef Packers opened for business in an already existing plant near Pleasant Hope, in southwest Missouri. This plant employs nearly 300 people from the area and can process 500 cattle each day. One day each week is dedicated to its Show Me Beef brand, which promotes beef born, raised, finished and harvested in Missouri.

You can find Show Me Beef in retail outlets across the state. What a tremendous way to showcase the beef industry, where we continue to be a national leader.

Encouraging processing

If there is anything the pandemic showed, it is that consumers want to buy local products. They want to know where their food comes from, and the farmer or rancher who grew or raised it.

Consumer interest peaked when meat cases were empty at the beginning of the pandemic. COVID-19 affected processing facilities across the nation, shuttering some plants entirely for days or even weeks. As those plants remained closed and chains didn’t move, live animals bottlenecked on farms and ranches in Missouri and many other states.

Those bottlenecks left many livestock producers scrambling for places to go with ready-to-harvest animals. It wasn’t long before our small- and medium-sized plants were at, and well beyond, processing capacity. I’m sure you heard stories of processors booked through 2021 and into 2022.

The Missouri Legislature also saw this need and provided $20 million in Cares Act funding for expansion of meat processing. Our team turned those dollars around in the form of a grant in less than six months. I’m proud to say that today Missouri is home to 27 additional inspected facilities than at the start of the pandemic. There is twice the processing capacity in our state.

The number will continue to rise, as nine facilities have applied to become state-inspected plants in 2022. Not all states have state inspection options for their producers. I am so pleased the Missouri Department of Agriculture can provide this service to our state.

This growth in meat processing is positive in so many ways. Livestock producers have more options for their product — not only more choices of facilities, but also simply the opportunity to finish more animals in Missouri rather than shipping them out of state after weaning. An increase in retained animals means more feed and supplies purchased in our local co-ops and feed stores. These are all positives for rural Missouri.

For consumers, there are more locations to purchase local proteins. Many Missouri processors also have storefronts where they sell other products to complement your meat purchases, such as rubs and barbecue sauces. We love when these items are also produced by Missouri companies. So many of them can also be found through the Missouri Grown program at missourigrownusa.com.

Inviting companies to invest

It is so important that we continue to promote Missouri and encourage business growth.

Dairy farms leaving the heavy regulations and drought areas of the West are looking at Missouri, where they find water and grass.

Agriculture companies look to the Show-Me State because we are not only agriculture friendly, but also building a job-ready workforce at technical schools and universities.

Missouri is a great place to live and work. We must create opportunity for our kids to live here, work here and return to the family farm. We must continue to welcome companies and encourage new ones to open their doors in the Show-Me State. Agriculture can continue to be a leader in this area. My team and I are proud of our state and proud to call this home.

Chinn is the director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture and a hog producer from Clarence, Mo.

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