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Ag officials detail efforts to help meat processers, providers

Since Minnesota farmers were forced to euthanize tens of thousands of hogs and turkeys last spring because of COVID-19-related closures of processing plants, state leaders have been looking to make the processing industry more resilient.

Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen and his team updated the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee Wednesday on those efforts.

Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen

They said they have queried processors about barriers to expanding and have connected farmers to processors who have additional capacity. Additionally, the Department of Agriculture has provided grants to livestock farmers and processors to help them expand capacity and created a "fast track" program to help processors more quickly go through inspection processes.

Minnesota farmers send about 30% of their hogs to the Smithfield processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and another 10% to the JBS plant in Worthington, Petersen said. Both plants were shuttered for a time last spring because of COVID-19 outbreaks among workers.

With their closures and with closures of smaller facilities in Minnesota and the Midwest, tens of thousands of animals had to be euthanized.

The Agriculture Department provided $4.3 million to turkey and hog growers forced to euthanize animals to help offset the costs and lost revenue. But Petersen said it was still difficult for farmers.

In addition to helping hog farmers, the department created a program to help retailers cover COVID-19 safety expenses and awarded grants to vendors, producers and schools whose involvement in farm-to-school programs was disrupted. The department's other pandemic-related efforts have included:

  • helping food processors and farmers develop e-commerce sites;
  • granting $1.25 million in state funds to Second Harvest Heartland for purchase of milk and protein products;
  • granting $6 million in coronavirus relief funds to Second Harvest and The Food Group with a priority on Minnesota products and processors;
  • providing funds for farmers' markets and to farmers operating community-support agriculture farms; and
  • issuing $860,000 in loans from the Rural Finance Authority Disaster Recovery Loan Program to assist farmers who experienced revenue losses.

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