Meat with a story

Small meat processing plants benefit consumers, producers and local communities


Melisa Goss, Tri-State Neighbor (NE)

Jul 29, 2022


When it comes to dinner, it’s hard to beat a big, juicy steak.


However, among labor shortages, market transparency issues and COVID-19, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to get that steak from pasture to plate.


Some producers are on wait-lists over a year long at area butcher shops.


“I’ve had to get locker spots in three different lockers: Scotland, Delmont and Platte,” said Angie Eitemiller of Wagner, South Dakota.


The shortage of workers played a role in her troubles, according to Eitemiller. When she tried to book for next year, she barely got one spot for Nov. 1, she said.


Christina Bakker, a meat science specialist for South Dakota State University Extension, sees the need for more small lockers and believes producers opening their own processing plants may be a way to meet this need.


That’s a big reason why SDSU Extension is creating a workshop series called Enhancing Producer Resources to Build Small Meat Processing Capacity that will include industry tours and case studies, regulatory presentations and financing and logistics discussions.


Opening a business of any kind requires taking many factors into consideration. The extension workshops are designed to introduce potential processors to all of the different factors they need to consider before they would start a small meat processing plant.


The biggest reason producers are showing interest in the program comes down to market prices, according to Bakker.


“Most of these producers really want to control a little bit more of their destiny when it comes to their business. They don’t want to have to take the prices that the livestock markets have right now,” she said.


Producers’ interest in opening their own processing plant is timely.


“There has been a big push toward local meat that’s kind of hitting more urban areas,” Bakker said.


Consumers are getting pickier about where their food comes from. Many want to know who raised the animals and who processed the animals.


“They want meat with a story,” she said


While demand is there, Bakker said the tricky part is for ranchers to be able to connect with consumers in order to bring them locally sourced meat...