For farmers who raise cattle, chicken, turkeys and hogs in Minnesota, one problem became even more pressing during the COVID-19 pandemic: the ability to find a meat processor for their livestock. The shortage of meat processing facilities already was an issue before the pandemic, but it became worse with plant shutdowns after COVID-19 outbreaks in certain facilities.
Meat processing challenges in 2020
As a result of meat processor shortages, some farmers had to get creative. Some contacted the Minnesota Agriculture Department, looking for meat processors who had the capacity to process their meat. Some slaughtered their own livestock and sold their meat to other farmers or via social media. Some decided to set up their own meat-processing facilities for the long haul. Very quickly smaller local meat processors became swamped with business.
In a short amount of time, the Minnesota Agriculture Department added four equal-to state meat processing plants, plants that follow federal standards but just sell meat in Minnesota in the pandemic, and 16 custom meat processing facilities. Custom meat processors allow customers to buy an animal directly from a farmer and then have it processed for themselves.
In the end, smaller producers became more popular with customers. The desire to buy local products was strong and direct sales continue to be strong, especially with restaurant owners who favor farm-to-table ingredients.
With growth comes need for more workers
Meat processors also faced another challenge in 2020: finding workers to help keep up with processing demands. Industry forecasts expect the demand for meat packers, processors and butchers to grow between 2.3% and 6% by 2026. One of the advantages to seeking a career as a butcher or meat packer is that it requires minimal education. Much of the training occurs on the job. Learning to make simple meat cuts often only takes a few weeks. But learning more complicated meat processing techniques can take months.
However, pursuing a meat processing career does include risks. Meat packing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States. Workers can suffer serious cuts, amputations, fractured fingers, burns, head trauma and repetitive stress injuries. So as the industry expands, meat processing facility owners and developers need to commit to following strict safety protocols and standards. If they don’t, the problem of finding workers for meat processing facilities will continue and will hurt the industry’s growth potential.
Atkinson Gerber focusses exclusively on protecting the rights of injured workers. If you’ve suffered a work injury, contact our office for help.