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Small, local meat-processing plants feel pressure from big plant closures

(KWCH)
Published: May. 1, 2020 at 9:59 PM CDT
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Meatpacking plants around the country have closed their doors or limited production because of COVID-19 concerns.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday

The order uses the Defense Production Act to classify meat processing as critical infrastructure to try to prevent a shortage of chicken, pork and other meat on supermarket shelves.

Despite safety measures and increased testing for COVID-19, safety concerns remain with continued operations at sites with confirmed cases of the highly-contagious virus.

It's all led to a smaller supply of meat being shipped to grocery stores, and now smaller processing operations are feeling the pressure.

Area butchers confirm the demand that’s just recently flooded their facilities.

Kansas Meat Processors Association said, “Everybody’s working overtime, trying to keep all of the customers happy," says Kansas Meat Processing Association President Matt Carselowey.

Carselowey is also the plant manager at Walnut Valley Packing in El Dorado and has been working hard to keep shelves stocked.

“Right now we’re processing somewhere around 50 beef a week and about 20 hogs a week,” says Carselway.

“It’s all the way around. I’ve spoken with other plants and they’re experiencing the same thing," says Yoder Meats Processing Plant Production Manager Kenneth Bontrager.

Bontrager says the big meat processing plants shutting down has put a lot of pressure on local butchers.

“Right now we are booked out full into the month of October. And so that is a huge increase on demand,” says Bontrager.

Carselowey says a lot of local ranchers are trying to sell their livestock which is overwhelming processing plants.

Kansas Senator Jerry Moran is looking into whether there is more federal legislation to help with the effects of COVID-19; empowering smaller processors to take on a larger role is something he is considering.

“What can we do to help livestock producers utilize what used to be available in almost all communities in Kansas? A small meat processing facility. They still exist,” says Sen. Moran.

Smaller, local meatpacking facilities say the added demand of retail beef and pork has reminded the public that local processing is still around and is a good way to support local business.

“They’re going to be able to see what their local farmers, local butcher shops can offer them and just introduce them to a new world that is outside of the grocery store," Carselowey says.