New Report Examines Meat Processing Bottleneck

September 2022

Contributed by Anne Dybsetter, Southwest RSDP

U of MN Extension graphic

A common challenge faced by Minnesota livestock farmers is limited access to meat processing services due to processor closures and fully booked processing appointments. A new report, “Solving the Meat Processing Workforce Bottleneck,” explores factors and potential action steps to address this challenge. 

The report is the result of a partnership between Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) and University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP), with support from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA).

The report’s authors interviewed 57 small- to medium-scale meat processors across the state. They found that most processors are operating at capacity and are looking to hire long-term, reliable employees who could be trained to fit their business needs. “We’re really struggling in the skilled labor section of the business - butchering, breaking down and processing. It’s a very skilled craft,” said one of the locker owners.

The interviews led to several recommendations, including:

  • Creating a one-year apprenticeship for workers with hands-on training in slaughter and meat processing.
  • Establishing a pool of funds for processors to access for trainee relocation packages, retention bonuses and training programs.
  • Developing business transition training materials and resources.

“Local meat processors have been disappearing from rural Minnesota. Sustaining these businesses and encouraging them to source locally is vital for livestock farmers to access the more-profitable direct sales markets,” said Paul Sobocinski, one of the report’s authors and a Redwood County Farmers Union member who raises livestock in southwestern Minnesota.

The report’s authors are farmers Sobocinski and Ted Suss; Don Arnosti, a local food connector; Maya Benedict, a former butcher shop operations manager and a graduate student at the University of Minnesota; and Courtney VanderMey, a grant specialist at MDA.

One third of processors interviewed for the report have not started planning for future sale of their business. Further, many processors don’t know where to find help for such ownership transitions. In general, successful business transitions have involved family members or internally trained employees.

Unique barriers exist for Latinos and other people of color who are interested in ownership of small locker plants, including language barriers and access to capital.

“Latinos are already working hard in meat processing in rural communities across Minnesota. With a concerted effort to overcome unique barriers, this research shows that some would choose to work in, and own, small rural meat processing plants,” said Greg Schweser, RSDP Director of Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems.

The report’s authors also note that the few local lockers in Minnesota that stock their retail counters primarily with locally-sourced meat should be studied with an eye to replicate their success. This could be an important value-added opportunity for local livestock farmers to enhance their fair share of food dollars.

Paul Hugunin, Director of MDA’s Ag Marketing & Development Division said, “This report will inform our ongoing work focused on retaining and expanding these vital rural businesses.”

Schweser agrees. "Livestock production in Minnesota is a vital aspect of our agricultural economy. Ensuring robust and thriving local meat production, processing, and supply chains requires a clear understanding of the challenges our processors are currently navigating. This comprehensive report takes a deep dive into their world and provides practical and actionable recommendations for supporting the future of local meat production in Minnesota."

The study was funded by University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, with financial support from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU).

Download the report at: