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More meat processors needed in Virginia

Increased demand for local meats during the COVID-19 pandemic revealed a need for more processing facilities, especially in Virginia.

National red meat processing increased 19% between 2000 and 2019. By contrast, Virginia meat processing decreased almost 26% during that same timeframe, according to a new guidebook intended to help entrepreneurs establish a business in the commonwealth.

While demand is high for small-volume red meat processing facilities, farmers have had difficulty accessing inspected local meat processors. Most of the Virginia processing facilities are located along Interstate 81, with most clustered in Northern Virginia.

“Farmers may seek cooperative efforts to implement small volume, red meat processing facilities in rural areas, and we’re hoping this document helps address that,” Wilmer Stoneman, interim executive director for the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation and Rural Sustainability, said.

The organization—in conjunction with Matson Consulting and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Office of Meat and Poultry Services—developed the guide to help steer potential meat processors through the typical operation and establishment of a processing facility, and examine associated economic costs and revenues for standard operations of varying sizes. 

A study of small-volume red meat processing in Virginia focuses on beef, pork, lamb and goat processing, and can be found in the VA FAIRS Resource Library at vafairs.com/resources.  

“There has been significant interest in recent years in expanding the availability of local meat processing. Supply chain disruptions and empty store shelves due to the pandemic have only increased interest among farmers, entrepreneurs and government officials,” Stoneman said. He added that VA FAIRS typically receives monthly inquiries about meat processing facilities.

“We get regular calls from livestock producers who can’t find a processor in their area or one that isn’t already booked up due to the high demand,” Stoneman said.

In the spring, farmers were reporting overwhelming demand for local meat, and many of them sold out their inventory. The increased business was welcome, but many found butchers and processing plants were booked well into 2021.

The VA FAIRS guide is intended to make it easier for new processors considering opening a business in Virginia by addressing planning considerations for them. Information in the guide was compiled from a literature and database search. The general literature resources are cited throughout the document.