A Recap of Meat Processing Listening Sessions

The need for additional meat processing capacity is not a new issue in Virginia. However, this need has intensified over the past several years, both within and outside of the agriculture industry, due to supply chain issues triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. There are a multitude of challenges inhibiting expansion, but no single solution. To address this, Virginia Farm Bureau (VAFB) worked with the Virginia Agribusiness Council and the Virginia Cattleman’s Association to pass legislation during the 2022 General Assembly to direct the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) to establish a five-year strategic plan for increasing meat processing capacity within the commonwealth.

To give producers and processors an opportunity to weigh in on this work, VAFB recently hosted four listening sessions across Virginia. Great attendance and productive discussion were had at sessions in Buckingham, Culpeper, Harrisonburg and Wytheville. In addition to VDACS and VAFB staff, the groups were fortunate to be joined by Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matt Lohr, VDACS Commissioner Joe Guthrie, Delegate Michael Webert, Delegate Tony Wilt, Senator Travis Hackworth, Delegate Marie March and Senator Todd Pillion’s Legislative Director, Tyler Lester.

As you may expect, each region presented a slightly different perspective on the challenges and opportunities associated with meat processing, but there were also many common themes. Good things are currently happening in the industry–the people and product are held in very high regard, and demand for a local product is through the roof. Direct sales and value-added products can provide a livestock producer with much needed additional income, but the extreme wait time to secure a slot at a processing facility is a major roadblock. For those looking to start a facility, obstacles such as gaps in technical assistance, struggles navigating the regulatory process, and difficulties securing buy-in from local governments and the general public were mentioned. Those currently operating facilities elaborated on hurdles resulting from the rendering process, lack of available labor and the need for additional costly infrastructure and cold storage space.

If you were unable to attend a listening session in person, but would like to share your thoughts, please take a few minutes to complete a survey by clicking here. The strategic plan is due to the General Assembly by January 1, 2023.

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