The future for meat processing Kentucky is bright, says Department of Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles.

One thing COVID-19 has done is expose the cracks throughout multiple infrastructures, and most notably stresses on the food supply that we have not seen since World War II, Quarles said.

“This pandemic has given the state the political will to once again invest in agriculture because the impact of those shortages touched every Kentuckian,” he said. “The future looks bright for processing in Kentucky and if you speak to those that have applied for and received incentives I think there is a greater appreciation at the processing level for the aid coming from the state.”

The meat shortage hit its peak in April and as a result, in May, the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy, working alongside the KDA, opened up $1.5 million to state meat processors through tobacco settlement money.

This three-tiered program was carried out by the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board, the body charged with distributing Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund money, in the hopes that the Meat Processing Investment Program would bolster Kentucky processors.

It has, said Quarles.

“In my opinion that was the most bold action that the agriculture development board has taken since I became commissioner,” he said. “The additional $2 million of CARES Act funding that I requested from the governor for our processors makes $3.5 million invested in our state processors during this pandemic.”

Gov Andy Beshear announced that $2 million of Cares Act funding would be dedicated to state meat processors on Nov. 5.

Quarles’ goal for seeking the additional funding and for the meat processing industry is two-fold, he said.

“First, we have seen various other agriculture states put money toward their meat processing industry to become more independent in light of what we have learned throughout COVID-19,” he said. “Tennessee, for example, dedicated $50 million of CARES Act funding to agriculture in general. The second reason is that CARES funding must be encumbered by the end of 2020.”

The focus of the funds and the KDA’s mission to grow Kentucky’s meat processing industry moving is focusing first and foremost on Kentucky processors, Quarles said.

“We want to increase the amount of Kentucky livestock processed by Kentucky processors,” he said. “This money can be used for relatively small improvements like knocking out a wall, replacing machinery that will increase efficiency, and buying and expanding refrigeration, which has been one of the more popular uses. We discovered a lack of refrigeration primarily used for aging. Today, many of our state processors have a year-long waitlist. We have more cattle than any state east of the Mississippi and the more Kentucky cattle that can be processed by Kentucky processors, the more value it brings to Kentucky agriculture.

“This is an opportunity that our cattlemen have been looking for for a while. We have wanted a larger processing footprint in Kentucky for some time now and while this funding won’t solve all of the problems, it will put us in a position to grow and have more livestock processed in Kentucky.”

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, jmulliken@messenger-inquirer.com

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