Ag and Markets disburses $4.25M in meat-processing expansion funds

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Venison cuts are prepared by Dana Garramone of Berkshire View Farm in Hannacroix.

ALBANY COUNTY — New York State has announced the recipients of $4.25 million in funding for meat-processing operations across the state as part of an effort to relieve a processing bottleneck that some farmers — including those in the Hilltowns — had faced during the pandemic. 

Sheep farmer and chairman of the Knox Agricultural Advisory Committee Gary Kleppel told The Enterprise last year that the state was “experiencing a meat crisis,” in part because, as COVID-19 shut down meat processing operations in the Midwest, many of those animals wound up in the Northeast. 

New York State has approximately 300 meat-processing plants, but half are not inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture, meaning the meat they process can’t be put up for sale. 

Grants were distributed by the Hudson Valley AgriBusiness Development Corporation. In determining recipients, the not-for-profit was “prioritizing grants for 19 businesses that currently operate with USDA inspection status and that presented plans to expand their operations,” according to a state Department of Agriculture and Markets press release.

However, funds were also granted to three businesses that are hoping to become USDA-inspected, and four start-up processors, the release says.

According to a list of recipients sent to The Enterprise, none of the awardees are from Albany County. The nearest recipients are in Columbia County: Hilltown Pork will receive $85,500; Hilltown Pork and Country Smokehouse will receive $45,000; HV Fish Farm will receive $193,040; and the Meat Hook will receive $125,050.

Altogether, the grants are expanded to increase meat-processing capacity by over 4.8 million pounds annually, according to Ag and Markets, and more than 3.6 million of those pounds will have come from New York producers. 

Although Kleppel told The Enterprise this week that the grants will help make New York’s food system more resilient in the face of another crisis, by now, Hilltown farmers he’s spoken with are mostly content with their ability to get livestock processed. 

“If there are — and there probably will be — other emergencies, we’ll have to take a look and make sure the system is tweaked or boosted to the extent that farmers can get their animals processed in a timely manner,” Kleppel said. “But everybody I know has been having no trouble getting animals processed right now.”

Kleppel said he had hoped that grants could be used to cover labor, since “the major complaint” these days has to do with finding “really good meat cutters. Butchering is a real art-form, and it takes a long time to get those skills.”

However, grant money is to be used for the “acquisition of machinery and/or equipment, installation or renovation/leasehold improvements of an existing building, or the acquisition of fixtures,” according the HVADC.

Still, Kleppel said, “I think the industry is moving in a positive direction.” 

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