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In an ongoing effort to diversify the country’s meat processing and create new markets for smaller livestock producers, the federal government is distributing about $3.9 million of grants and guaranteeing $5.7 million in loans for more than two dozen projects in 15 states.
“We are just in the beginning processes of this,” Tom Vilsack, the U.S. agriculture secretary and former Iowa governor, told reporters last week. “It takes a while, obviously, for the grant application process to go through, but we’re excited about this. We think they’re going to begin to see some results.”
In Iowa, a $210,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant will help a southwest Iowa cattle farm build its own facility to process the animals it raises.
Waubonsie Ridge Beef, near Tabor, sells meat directly to consumers and has been paying a local meat locker to process its animals — typically about 15 cows each month.
Jamie Ewalt, a co-owner of the operation with her husband, Justin, said they had been planning to build a facility to do the work themselves.
The USDA grant is expected to cover about half the cost of the facility. Without the grant, “it probably would have been less of a facility,” Jamie Ewalt said. “We wouldn’t have done it to such an extensive nature.”
Work on the new building is expected to start early this year, she said.
A USDA loan guarantee of $800,000 will support construction of a new meat locker in Marcus in northwest Iowa.
Jordan’s Meat Market is expected to open this year and will process up to 15 cattle and 20 hogs per week, according to the Cherokee Chronicle Times. Construction of the facility started in August.
Loan guarantees from the USDA can expand processors’ loan options and lower interest rates. The Marcus project is expected to result in seven new jobs.
The 23 grants announced Thursday are part of the USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grant program. The two loan guarantees are part of the Food Supply Chain Guaranteed Loan Program.
The Biden administration has dedicated billions of dollars to agricultural and food-supply initiatives to make them more climate-friendly and resilient against calamitous market disruptions, such as pandemics.
In November, the USDA announced $73 million of grants for smaller, independent meatpackers in 16 states, including Iowa.
The other loan guarantee announced Thursday was about $5 million for Bottomland Prime to acquire an existing meat processing facility in Amarillo, Texas. The USDA said the deal will create 12 jobs and retain 30.
The other grants announced Thursday ranged from $44,000 to $250,000.
This article was first published in the Iowa Capital Dispatch.