Hometown processors try to expand in rural Kansas
Alice Mannette, Pratt Tribune (KS)
Jul 24, 2020
As the United States’ meat supply chain wavered during COVID-19, cattle prices came down and feed lots swelled to capacity. Ranchers looked to small- and medium-sized processors to harvest their animals, but across the country, these businesses were in short supply.
Many who had a two- to three-month wait before the pandemic, now have more than an eight-month wait. In some locations nationwide, including in western Kansas and Alabama, the wait to process an animal is more than one year.
Some state agencies and legislators in Washington are trying to figure out how to help the supply chain.
“No state has enough slaughter and processing plants for what the current market demands are,” said Christopher Young, executive director of the American Association of Meat Processors. “It’s an ongoing situation we need to rectify.”
The AAMP has more than 1,500 members, with most of them falling into the small- to medium-sized category. Many, like Krehbiels Specialty Meats in McPherson, Kan., are having to turn customers away because their calendars are full and the ranchers waited too long to make a reservation.
Krehbiels, a fixture in central Kansas, started in 1978. With 14,000 square feet, this USDA inspected slaughterhouse and attached retail store harvests and sells buffalo, cattle, elk, goats and poultry. Because they have a USDA inspector on premises, the meat from the harvested animals that independent ranchers bring to the facility can be sold retail nationwide by the rancher.
Ranchers who sell meat over state lines must bring their animals to a USDA-inspected facility. In Kansas, other than the large plants like Cargill and Tyson, there are not many plants for ranchers to choose from. Often the animals must ride several hours to the meat processing plant, and the rancher must travel back that many hours to pick up their packaged meat.
According to Young, in more evenly populated states, like Missouri and Wisconsin, there are more processing plants, and they are spread out more evenly than in Kansas.
Many of the slaughterhouses sprinkled throughout Kansas and 25 other states are state-inspected facilities. When a rancher has their meat slaughtered and processed at one of these plants, the meat must remain within state lines. There are also custom-exempt facilities where farmers can bring their animal, but once the meat is processed, it has to be consumed by the rancher or hunter and marked not for resale.
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