Last year, when the COVID pandemic put large meat packers in the harsh glare of the public spotlight. I thought about the small processor community I cover for Independent Processor. I wrote a series of “Tales from the Front Lines” articles discussing how many small companies adapted to the pandemic. Our “Year of the Independent Processor” feature from last August also highlighted the adaptability of the small processor.
The Biden Administration, it seems, has been following this development as well. The USDA and state ag agencies have been busy offering grants to small processors over the past year. The latest development is the “Biden-Harris Action Plan for a Fairer, More Competitive, and More Resilient Meat and Poultry Supply Chain.” The Action Plan, as a part of an ultimate goal of reducing retail meat prices, is touting $1 billion to small meat processors.
I think the last couple of years have demonstrated that the meat supply chain is powerful, but not necessarily robust. COVID has been an unprecedented hurdle in the industry, and you can hardly fault the big packers for being caught unprepared. The whole world was caught unprepared for COVID, so how can the top 10 meat packers be blamed specifically? But the pandemic did expose cracks in the system, and small processors stepped in to fill those cracks. They worked around-the-clock to provide ground beef and fresh cuts when consumers couldn’t find meat in their usual grocery stores. They pivoted to find new customers when their foodservice business shut down. They accelerated planned expansion projects. Complain about government intrusion if you like, but why shouldn’t small processors reap the rewards of their hard work?
You can find opposing viewpoints about the current administration’s approach to the meat industry easily enough. Too much of the country is dominated by political discussion, but this is one development that seems politically neutral. The USDA and state grants that have been available (as well as whatever comes of the Action Plan) are good for the industry and will help make a strong community of small processors even stronger. None of it is likely to put a dent in the sales figures of the biggest processors in the country. But it may turn niche markets into something a little larger and a little more viable. If these opportunities seem to be compatible with your business plan, do your research and see if they can help you with a future capital investment.