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Federal grants go to 4 Arkansas meat interests

by Nathan Owens | November 24, 2021 at 2:05 a.m.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded four Arkansas entities a total of $788,686 in grant funds to improve their meat and poultry processing operations for inspection purposes.

It is a fraction of the $32 million distributed among 167 slaughter and processing facilities as part of the Meat and Poultry Inspection Readiness Grant program.

Recipients each got up to $200,000 to cover various improvement costs for renovations, expansions, equipment upgrades and other requirements needed to comply with federal or state inspection standards.

In Arkansas, grant dollars went to the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture; A&C Meat Company; 5R Custom Meats; and Central Arkansas Mobile Processing, LLC.

The UA System Division of Agriculture plans on making infrastructure upgrades to its red meat lab, originally built in the 1960s.

Once this happens, Kelly Vierck, a faculty coordinator with the lab, said the goal is to do federally inspected slaughter for training and research purposes. There are also plans to get meat sales off the ground in the next few years.

"We want to become that center for information, training and processing," Vierck said.

Several meat and poultry processors applied for grants as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

As some of the largest processing plants slowed or shut down over supply chain and labor issues, A&C Meat Company, a processor in Hot Springs, reopened last July to fill in some of the demand gaps.

Currently, A&C is working to construct an additional building, obtain access to city water and purchase more equipment, including a refrigerator, Bobcat skid-steer loader and hydraulic meat stuffer, according to its proposal.

Another processor, 5R Custom Meats, opened in April 2020 as the pandemic broke out. Located in Mount Vernon, it can handle orders from 100 customers each month. But farmers can expect an 8-to-12 month backlog.

To meet demand, 5R Custom Meats is adding equipment that increases plant capacity and meets customer demand, according to its proposal. The 6,000-square-foot plant is a joint venture between Robbie and Jennifer Raby and Cypress Valley Meat Company.

One headache Arkansas meat processors face is that there is no state inspection program, leaving growers with no option but to find a processor that meets federal inspection standards if they want to sell their meat or poultry to the public. The Arkansas Farm Bureau has lobbied to create a state inspection program for years.

Most farmers drive hours to one of the few slaughterhouses that have federal inspectors. To alleviate travel costs and stress on the animals, Damon and Jana Helton with The Farm at Barefoot Bend created the state's first meat processor on wheels.

The processor, a custom trailer with all the equipment suited to slaughter cows, pigs and other animals, began taking customers in August, said Damon Helton, farmer and military veteran. The main focus of Central Arkansas Mobile Processing, LLC is helping farmers and ranchers in the state who are smaller, disadvantaged or underserved. With the grant funds, Helton said he wants to offer more cuts to customers and prepared food offerings such as snack sticks for school lunch programs.

According to the company's proposal, additional manufacturing equipment is needed such as cutters, mixers, grinders, sausage stuffers, pipes and motors.

Print Headline: Federal grants go to 4 meat interests


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