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Processing opportunities: WBA hosts panel to discuss beef processing status, opportunities in Wyoming

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On Aug. 13, the Wyoming Business Alliance (WBA) hosted a virtual panel of highly esteemed industry experts to discuss beef processing opportunities in Wyoming as well as the current status on enhancing local processing to propel Wyoming’s agricultural economy forward. 

Speakers included Wyoming Rep. Tyler Lindholm, Wyoming Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) Deputy Director Stacia Berry, Wyoming Business Council Agribusiness Development Manager Jill Tregemba, Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) Executive Vice President Jim Magagna, Wyoming Ranch Foods, LLC Founder Carla Weiser, 307 Meat Company Founder Kelcey Christensen, Central Wyoming Community College President Dr. Brad Tyndall and U.S. Meat and Produce Market Founder Shonda Boyd. 

Lisa Johnson, president of Orbis Advantage, Inc, moderated the meeting. 

Current regulatory issues

Lindholm began the discussion by bringing the issue of nonsensical exemptions in the Federal Meat Inspection Act to attendees’ attention.

“All fish are exempt from the Federal Meat Inspection Act, except catfish, because apparently catfish are the only type of fish that grow bacteria if they go bad,” he explained. “Obviously, this isn’t true, but just the same, when it comes to farm-raised fish, catfish are the only federally-inspected species.” 

Additionally, Lindholm noted Wyoming residents are able to take advantage of the 1,000-bird exemption in the act, meaning an individual can process 1,000 birds and sell them directly to consumers without any labeling, licensing or inspection restrictions.

“When we start looking at some of these ridiculous regulations, we begin to wonder if it is really about consumer health and safety. Certainly some of them are, but I think it is pretty clear when producers in cattle country are able to sell 1,000 chickens with no regulations, but they aren’t able to sell a T-bone steak, it really isn’t about safety,” he stated. 

In order to battle these regulations, Lindholm said it is critical the federal delegation begin to understand there are some much needed regulatory changes in regards to the Federal Meat Inspection Act.

Weiser noted some of the regulatory issues she has run into in the private sector of the industry. 

“Initially, my partners and I were looking into starting a packing plant from scratch on some bare ground in Platte County,” explained Weiser. “We ran into zoning issues and had to jump through a whole lot of hoops to even figure out if the land we were looking at purchasing was worth it.” 

Weiser explained this led her to purchasing the state-inspected facility in Torrington that was shut down in 2017. Now, Weiser and her partners are in the process of remodeling the plant, known as Wyoming Ranch Foods, LLC, and said they hope to be in operation on Nov. 16 of this year. 

Expanding Wyoming’s processing capacity

“The COVID-19 pandemic has really presented an opportunity for fundamental change,” noted Steinmetz. “We took this opportunity with the $1.25 billion in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding. In Senate File One, we amended the funds to be able to include money for production and processing of food.”

Additionally, Berry noted Gov. Gordon announced the Wyoming Meat Processing and Expansion Grant Program on Sept 2.

“To date, we have received 28 applications for the program, and so far, the committee has awarded nearly $3 million to entities all across the state, who are doing everything from trying to upgrade their level of inspection, to increasing freezer capacity, to improving infrastructure or equipment,” Berry explained. 

“We really encourage those who think they may have missed something in their application to continue working with the committee, and we encourage those who haven’t applied to do so by the Dec. 30 deadline,” she continueed.  

Magagna noted WSGA is committed to helping the industry expand processing capability as well. 

“Right now, we are focused on making some regulatory changes, getting rid of excessive regulation and amplifying interstate shipment of state-inspected meat. Those three things are very important,” said Magagna. 

“We also want to see more transparency on behalf of the large processors, and we are currently working on some legislation, which would require large processors to be more transparent about how they set prices,” he added. 

On the home front, Magagna said WSGA is very supportive of the local food movement and efforts to expand local processing. 

The panel agreed, in addition to a larger processing capacity in the state, spinoff opportunities from processing beef would also add value to Wyoming’s economy.

“Not only is it important to have the facilities to meet larger local demand, it is also important we embrace the ancillary industries that can develop around beef processing, including utilizing hides and offal,” Magagna said. “In order for those to be successful, there needs to be a certain amount of volume concentrated in a reasonably accessible area.” 

Steinmetz also shared suggestions on how to take advantage of spinoff opportunities, including using bone char for fertilizer, making dog food, getting more local beef into schools and prison systems and creating public marketplaces. 

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to roundup@wylr.net.

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