Construction continues on Farm to Fork Butcher Shop in Pleasant Plains.

T&A Womack Farms in Pleasant Plains, Natural State Processing in Clinton, Ramsey’s Red River Smokehouse in Judsonia, and Ride Runner’s processing in Jonesboro, were among 15 meat processors to receive funding from the $5 million Arkansas Meat Processing Grant Program.

Under the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, every state was given about $1.25 billion to offset some of the costs associated with COVID-19. The Arkansas CARES Steering Committee created the Arkansas Meat Processing Grant program with $5 million of the state’s share of CARES funding.

The goal of the grant is to support meat and poultry processing facilities with fewer than 200 employees, to shore up supply chains and help with the health and environmental costs associated with the public health emergency. For many of these local, family-run meat processors, cost was the major factor keeping them from expanding, and upgrading for increased capacity

“Recipients of the funding will help address the lack of local, small-scale meat processing capacity in Arkansas that limited our producers’ ability to meet consumer demand for locally grown meat products during the COVID-19 related disruptions. Expanded processing capability will build resilience within the industry and provide benefit to producers, consumers, and our rural communities,” said Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward.

The Arkansas Department of Agriculture received 45 grant applications requesting a total of more than $30 million in grant funding. Selected recipients will receive 79.7 percent of the amount requested, up to a cap of $500,000 per application.

Collectively the applicants receiving awards anticipate increasing processing capacity by more than 1,260 cattle, 850 hogs, 7,00 poultry, and eight goats and sheep per month. They also anticipate utilizing180 full-time positions and 38 part-time positions.

A review committee consisting of the department, Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association, Arkansas Farm Bureau, the Livestock Marketing Association, Arkansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry, the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, and the United States Department of Agriculture evaluated the applications and made the award selections

“These grant funds will bring food security longevity and predictability to Arkansas consumers and livestock producers, along with economic development opportunities to communities,” said Jessica Burkham, Arkansas Farm Bureau director of policy development and legislative research, in a press release.

According to the press release, Farm Bureau will work with legislators and policy makers during the 2021 legislative session to reinstate a state meat inspection program to provide further opportunities for producers, processors, and communities.

She explained that a state inspection program will provide flexibility and boost economic development in rural communities where livestock production is prominent and help ensure access to high-quality local products for Arkansas consumers.

“A state inspection program would allow more livestock producers to adopt a farm-to-table business model,” Burkham said.

Arkansas ranks tenth in the nation in the value of animals and animal products that provide more than $5.6 billion to the state’s economy annually. In the 2019 production year, Arkansas was tenth in the nation in beef cow inventory and 25th in the nation in cattle and calves.

Other meat processing facilities receiving funding through the grant included:

A&C Meat Company, Hot Springs; B&R Meat Processing, Winslow; CR Custom Meat Processing, Bismarck; Cypress Valley Meat Company, Pottsville; Deaton Slaughterhouse, Caddo Gap; JACO Meats, Hope; JD Custom Meat Processing, Greenwood; Key’s Family Butcher Shop, Van Buren; Miller’s Quality Processors of Arkansas, Dardanelle; Tilton’s Processing, Harrison; and 4-M Butcher Barn, Gilham.