Written by: Caroline Hargraves, UDAF Communication Specialist
Empty supermarket shelves and meat cases, streams of fresh milk being poured into ditches or salvaged and fed to pigs, potatoes and onions being tilled back into the earth — these are just a few of the jarring images representative of the major supply chain disruptions brought about by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. While many of these deficiencies have been ongoing issues, the massive disruptions over the last year have shined a spotlight on the importance of local processing capacity for food security and the viability of Utah producers.
“One of the Department’s priorities right now is developing agricultural and food processing infrastructure. It’s important for us to support all aspects of infrastructure that assist our producers in preparing their products to be marketed to the public.” — UDAF Commissioner Craig W Buttars.
Vulnerabilities caused by inadequate infrastructure impact every sector of Utah’s agricultural economy. Since last summer, when meat processing bottlenecks led to wait times of over 24 months for ranchers, UDAF has been working with local producers, universities, and partners at the state, federal, and local levels to identify gaps in our agricultural and food processing systems and expand and improve infrastructure.
As of May 2021, UDAF has approved one new State Inspection plant, one Talmadge-Aiken meat plant, and six Custom-Exempt plants. Over 20 additional business owners have expressed interest in building or expanding meat plant operations statewide. “One thing that I have seen is that when this whole COVID thing happened, it made you appreciate the local farmers, growers, and producers. People turned to local state programs and producers to get the products that they need. In a way, this was a silver lining — it’s fortunate that we had a state inspection program and had local producers to turn towards to keep food on our tables.” — Noel McSpadden, UDAF Meat and Poultry Inspection Program Manager.
Wool is another prime example of an agricultural commodity that all but stalled over the past several years. Without testing facilities, producers are unable to bring their product to market. With the recent addition of the nation’s only private wool-testing lab to Midvale, Utah is on track to establish itself as the nation’s premier source for wool processing.
Expanding processing capabilities in the state ensures local products are available to consumers and also helps producers have viable operations. Ample avenues for value-added products via canneries, bottling facilities, manufacturing plants, etc. help Utah-grown products stay in the state to feed Utah families. Adequate agricultural and food processing infrastructure is the key to providing opportunities for Utah producers to flourish, strengthening local economies in rural areas, and providing consistent access to local, wholesome products at reasonable prices for Utah consumers.
The United States Department of Agriculture is requesting public comment on Supply Chains for the Production of Agricultural Commodities and Food Products. We invite you to lend your comments and concerns on this issue to help determine how resilience can be increased within the U.S. food supply chain at: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/04/21/2021-08152/supply-chains-for-the-production-of-agricultural-commodities-and-food-products
> Return to the May 2021 Cultivating Connections newsletter here.
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