Consumer interest in locally raised meats has steadily increased in recent decades, both nationally (Martinez, et al., 2010) and in the state of Minnesota (Renewing the Countryside, 2015). More farms are catering to this market by participating in farmers markets, selling through Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA), and conducting on-farm sales. In Minnesota, the number of farms registered through the state’s local foods directory has increased from 944 in 2012 (Minnesota Grown, 2012) to 981 in May 2021 (Minnesota Grown, 2020). Overall, 5 percent of Minnesota farms sell directly to consumers (National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2017), representing over 3,000 farms and $139 million in economic value according to analysis by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) (2016, 2021). Small and medium-sized farms producing livestock and poultry provide consumer choice for meat that is produced in animal-welfare-friendly environments, raised without antibiotics, organic, pasture-raised, and humanely slaughtered. They also foster a closer connection with food's origins.
These farmers rely on an important stakeholder to successfully operate their businesses: small- and medium-scale meat processing facilities. There are, according to the most recent available data, approximately 280 meat processors in Minnesota that each employ fewer than 500 individuals (AURI, 2014). Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were already indications that this industry could lose its vitality in the coming years. Research from the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI, 2014) found that two-thirds of facility owners were at or near retirement age, and a similar proportion had no succession plan in place; half of Minnesota’s processing facilities were more than 50 years old; and regulations and inspector shortages were limiting expansion plans.
Draeger, Dr. Kathryn; Danner, Christopher; Barka, Natalie; Theis, Eliza; Busch, Joan; Schweser, Greg; Martin, Wayne.
COVID-19 and Local Meat Processing in the Midwest: Challenges and Emerging Business Practices.
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