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New law aims to assist small meat lockers

By Kriss Nelson - Farm News editor | Jul 6, 2021



House File 857, the butchery innovation and revitalization fund and program bill, was signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds last month.

This law will assist local meat packers with not only opportunities to qualify for grants, it will also increase educational opportunities in meat processing.

State Sen. Jesse Green, R-Harcourt said the signing of this bill stems from a large problem created by COVID.

“COVID revealed a big problem in this area,” he said. “It seems to be a constant problem that we do not have the meat processing capacity in the state of Iowa to meet the demand that is out there.”

The bill, Green said, provides an educational component to the meat processing issues, but will also help existing lockers to be able to expand to meet the demand there is right now.

Funding in the amount of $750,000 in the form of grants will be used to help small meat lockers upgrade their equipment or expand their facilities to increase their processing capacity.

Green, who sits on the Administrative Rules Committee, said he will be sitting down with economic development, along with Rep. Chad Ingels, R-Randalia, and Rep. Phil Thompson, R-Jefferson, as soon as next week, to develop rules on who can apply for the grants.

Green said his main concern is to make the funds available for those that may work within the meat processing industry, but not necessarily be licensed.

“I want to make sure, even if they aren’t USDA inspected, if somebody’s primary business is processing meat that they can apply for these grants,” he said.

The program also directs the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to form a task force to explore the feasibility of creating an artisanal butchery program at community colleges or regent universities to help address work shortages.

Green said the task force will include representatives from various agriculture groups including beef and pork producers as well as officials from Iowa’s community colleges.

“This task force will need to provide a report back to the state as to what they think the proper curriculum should be, the educational opportunities and how many community colleges should be providing classes on butchering,” said Green. “They will come with all of those recommendations.”

Green said he is very excited for the educational component of the bill.

“That portion is my favorite portion of the bill because Iowa Central will probably show some interest in this,” he said.

Green’s involvement with HF 857

Green said he, Ingels and Thompson early on in the process had been talking about how to get this bill started.

“Being it is my freshman year, I didn’t want to file a bill that maybe wasn’t on the appetite of some of the others,” he said. “So Chad Ingels, I believe on the last day of the second funnel week — which is absolutely the last day you can file a bill — he filed one in the House and it went through the House process and as soon as it came into the Senate, I was able to have conversations with others on the Appropriations Committee and in the ag committee to get the desire and appetite up to pass it through the Senate.”

Sen. Jeff Reichman, R-Montrose, Green said, helped to manage the bill through the Senate, eventually getting it passed and to the governor.

“It was a completely bipartisan bill and it was so much fun to work on,” said Green. “Usually it takes a bill a long time to pass and go the governor’s desk, but this bill just flew right out of the House, right out of the Senate and signed by the governor. It was a common sense bill.”

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig provided a statement on the passing of the new law.

“There is still a significant opportunity to expand meat processing capacity around the state. I want to applaud state lawmakers for building on our previous efforts to increase processing capacity at local meat lockers and help address their workforce needs. This legislation will ensure continued market access for livestock producers, create new jobs, and help grow and revitalize our rural communities,” he said. “We look forward to continuing to work with legislators and stakeholders to strengthen Iowa’s regional food systems and promote locally-grown and raised foods.”

Green said HF 857 isn’t the answer to the entire issue, however.

“I believe that this bill just begins to get at this problem,” he said. “This is a first step in the right direction.”

Next year, Green plans to work on an apprenticeship bill for the meat industry to help encourage high school students to start an apprenticeship while in high school at a local locker.

“As they develop that knowledge and acquire those hours of that apprenticeship, after meeting those hours, I would like to see them earn a free community college education that will soon be available in meat processing,” he said.

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