PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A somewhat unusual coalition came forward Thursday backing the governor’s request for $5 million to help small processors in South Dakota put more meat on consumers’ plates.
Governor Kristi Noem wants the money to make grants available to approximately 100 small businesses involved in the meat industry for equipment and facility improvements that could increase capacity, such as coolers, freezers, smokers and packaging machines.
Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden and Jason Simmons outlined the plan to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. They said COVID-19 drove home the need for more locally produced meat. “We can also promote South Dakota products in the process,” Rhoden said.
The proposal comes as the governor moves ahead on combining the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Simmons shifted from the governor’s staff to help with the merger.
Simmons said the grants won’t go toward workforce, but discussions are underway about getting more people trained, through apprenticeships under the state Department of Labor and Regulation, and through potential programs at several technical colleges.
South Dakota State University already has a meat processing minor.
“The things go hand in hand,” Simmons said. The department will contact each processor and work on plans for those interested. “We know the need is strong. We don’t know what it is.”
Next came a parade of positive comments from farm and ranch groups plus a few surprises.
Jeremiah Murphy from the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association set the tone when he thanked Noem and Rhoden. “This is terrific,” he said.
17 states have programs that assist small meat processors, according to Murphy. “Those other states have seen real success with it. We’d like to see that success in South Dakota,” he said. “It’s our cattle going to those small lockers.”
Rebecca Terk of Dakota Rural Action testified remotely from Rapid City. The organization favors the program, she said, because supporting the local and regional food system is a major DRA issue.
Another endorsement came from Nathan Sanderson of the South Dakota Retailers Association. That’s because more than two dozen local meat processors are among the group’s members, he said.
“Those guys are looking for workforce. I submit to you, this is absolutely a workforce bill,” Sanderson said.
Other South Dakota groups supporting the plan were Farmers Union, Farm Bureau, Cattlemen, Association of Cooperatives, Landowner Outfitter Alliance, and Pork Producers.
No one spoke against it.
A committee member asked about helping startups. “We would like to get these funds out as soon as possible to have an impact now,” Simmons answered. “It does give us four years to spend the money.” The application form will be simple, he said.
Representative Oren Lesmeister, a Democratic rancher from the Parade area, asked that the Republican governor’s bill move forward to the appropriations committee with the ag committee’s endorsement. “We’ve heard a lot about it,” Lesmeister said. “It is a needed program.”
“It’s good for our state,” said Representative Rocky Blare. The Republican from Ideal suggested various groups consider meat-processing scholarships. “I thank you all for working together on this.”
People who don’t like the program don’t understand it, said the chairman, Representative Marty Overweg. “Ag is our number-one industry in this state,” the New Holland Republican said. “And because of that we need to take care of it.”