Skilled meat processors needed to meet Wyoming protein demand
Riverton – During the Annual Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days held Feb. 9-10, Central Wyoming College (CWC) Meat Science Instructor Amanda Winchester discussed local meat production and processor trends in the state of Wyoming.
“Nearly all of the meat processing industry in the state of Wyoming and the nation face a shortage of workers,” shared Winchester. “Unfilled positions impact the production capacity of the processing plant eventually impacting the bottom line.
In 2019, the estimated slaughter capacity for Wyoming processors was 21,320 head annually with 7,020 head slaughtered at federally inspected plants and 14,300 head slaughtered at state inspected plants, she shared.
The number of federally inspected plants in Wyoming has grown since 2019. Fremont County currently has two plants and CWC will soon come online with a third.
“Wyoming has a higher rate of the labor force participating in agriculture compared to the U.S., which has declined in recent years,” she shares. “In addition, Wyoming has a higher percentage rate of all age groups in agriculture compared to the U.S. and has a high concentration of jobs in government, construction, oil and gas and agriculture compared to the nation.”
The cattle industry and livestock production has grown in Wyoming. While cattle ranching has a significant presence in the state compared to the nation, slaughtering and processing lag behind national averages, she noted.
Supply chain opportunities
“In Wyoming, for slaughter and processing industries to operate, more than 88 percent of the goods and services must be imported,” added Winchester. “Overall, one-third of the beef supply needs are met within the region, while the remaining two-thirds of requirements are purchased outside of the region.”
As processors within the state are examining new processing plant markets, they must be aware of their direct and indirect cost, efficiencies and markets. If Wyoming processors want to sell directly, they must invest heavily in a sales force and compete on a quality and convenient basis, she explained.
“As demand grows, so will the ability of processors to compete with the larger economic scale, which exists in the beef industry,” she noted.
Wyoming animal production and demand met in the region was only 53 percent in 2018, with imported products at 47 percent. Animal slaughter was only at 23 percent, where demand met by imports was 77 percent, shared Winchester.
“This is a huge difference we need to address within our state,” she said. “Meat processed from carcasses in Wyoming was at one percent, with the demand met by imports at 99 percent. In the state, we have zero dollars of meat rendering or byproducts such as hides, fat and processing.”
“We have a long ways to go and a lot of improvement we can do,” Winchester noted.
CWC is providing two different opportunities for workforce training through a meat science certificate and an Associate of Science degree.
The meat science certificate is a semester long course where students learn everything from the proper paperwork, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) training, slaughtering and aging, she shared.
Through the Associate of Science training opportunity, students will receive the meat science certificate in addition to other agriculture classes to receive their associate degree.
“The purpose of these programs is to train students to be well-educated employees,” continued Winchester. “The skilled labor force for the industry is way behind and we need to provide employees to be able to produce in our state.”
If students choose to continue their education and receive a meat or animal science degree from a university, they can go on to become a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or state inspector, run their own meat plant or manage a large facility, she said.
There are many options and opportunities available for students and a need for trained employees in the industry.
Processing at CWC
In 2020, Gov. Mark Gordon awarded CWC a $777,809 grant for the development of a meat processing program. The funds will supply agriculture faculty, meat science lab equipment in the Rocky Mountain Complex for Ag and Equine Sciences and a mobile science lab.
“The purpose of the program is to teach students all aspects of meat processing from slaughter, USDA regulations, HACCP and customer service, food safety, labeling and packaging,” said Winchester.
CWC will have a mobile slaughter trailer with the ability to slaughter on-site.
The benefits of on-site processing is decrease travel time, reduce stress for the animal and results in an end product of higher quality, she continued.
The carcass will then be brought back to the CWC meat lab, where beef carcasses will age for 10 to 14 days, while pork and lamb age for fewer days. The carcass will then be transferred to the cut and fabrication process. All of this will be done under a USDA inspector, she explained.
The mobile unit will allow the producer or consumer to sell the product or keep for their own consumption.
Through this program, students will be provided hands-on training and, when training is complete, be much-needed and educated employees for local processors.
“We are here to provide a service to the customers and producers, but the main purpose of this is to teach CWC students,” she said.
One of the main areas of focus for CWC is working on local meats. The goal is to try to inform the consumer where their food comes from, she continued.
“When consumers go to the grocery story they don’t know where their meat comes from,” said Winchester. “As producers and consumers, adequate labeling with the USDA is one of the key factors in knowing where our U.S. food comes from.”
The CWC mobile unit is not there to take away business from local processors but help fill the void of exporting products out of state while being an educational opportunity for students, Winchester concluded.
Once the mobile unit is up and running, CWC is looking to provide meat judging competitions to local FFA chapters and do community networking in an effort to teach the younger generation where their food comes from. CWC processing is in the final inspection process and is expected to be up and running in the coming weeks.
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.