RIVERTON — Wyoming’s meat processing industry is growing, a development Central Wyoming College is watching closely.
During a July 19 meeting of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee, Wyoming Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas, testified about the impacts of House Bill 51, which was passed last year “authorizing a governmental program related to expanding and enhancing meat processing capabilities” in the state. The legislation created a meat processing expansion grant program with a $2 million allocation, according to Boner – but about $6 million in requests have been received.
“That’s in stark contrast to the similar — if not exactly the same — program we had a year ago, where $5 million was on the table and we only expended a little over $3 million,” Boner said. “I think that’s a strong indication that this industry, which basically did not exist in any meaningful way before the pandemic, is really starting to get its feet underneath it.”
In 2018, only 1,200 head of cattle were federally inspected statewide, Wyoming Rep. Aaron Clausen, R-Douglas, said during a legislative committee meeting in February.
The number rose to about 1,600 in 2019, he said, but that total still is well below the rate of production at just one large-scale plant in Colorado that processes 6,000 head a day.
“We realized we had a pretty big problem,” Clausen said. “If you remember back to the spring when the shutdowns were going on, (there was) very little meat in the grocery stores. We realized how weak our food system is in certain places.”
This month, Boner said state support for meat processing companies will “provide some security in the supply chain.”
HB 51’s grant program was designed to “address COVID-19 related problems by planning, constructing, expanding and maintaining meat processing facilities, upgrading technology in meat processing facilities, providing workforce training and converting custom inspected facilities to state or federally inspected facilities and state inspected facilities to federally inspected facilities,” according to HB 51 –– now Enrolled Act. No. 82.
The workforce training language could have implications for Central Wyoming College in Riverton, which has established a one-semester meat processing apprenticeship program, with new equipment purchases in place to supplement the training.
During the February meeting, CWC president Brad Tyndall suggested that the college could provide “full-ride” scholarships to meat processing students using grant funding from the program established by HB 51.
He also talked about the rise in demand for Wyoming meat nationwide, recommending that the state invest in a marketing strategy to support the product.
This month, Boner echoed Tyndall’s sentiment, calling the meat processing program “an opportunity to add value to an important product that is produced in the state.”
“That’s certainly a focus of our economic development efforts,” Boner said. “We really think the priority needs to be on the continued attempts to increase our meat processing capacities in the state.”