South Dakota lawmakers support need for local beef
South Dakota legislators are working together to potentially allocate a portion of the $1.25 billion CARES Act federal funding that the state is set to receive. Governor Noem announced in late June that $200 million in CARES Act funding would be made available to cities and counties in South Dakota. The allocation being considered would be for smaller meat locker plants throughout the state. While legislators are waiting to hear a response to their special session request, they are making a point to visit constituents to hear their concerns and suggestions for the use of funds, as they must be used by years’ end. “We apologize it’s taken us this long, but we’ve had a terrible time even getting cooperation with our own legislature,” said Speaker of the House, Steven G. Haugaard.
South Dakota District 30 Representative, Julie Frye-Mueller, arranged a meeting between Wall Meat Processing in Wall, S.D. and legislators from across the state on Wednesday, September 9th. Those in attendance were included Steven G. Haugaard, Speaker of the House; Thomas J. Brunner, District 29 Representative; Tim Goodwin, District 30 Representative; Phil Jensen, District 33 Senator; Tina L. Mulally, District 39 Representative; Judd Schomp, District 27 State Senate Candidate and Liz Marty May, District 27 House Candidate. “At this point, we are simply attempting to acquire information,” said Haugaard. Legislators received a “pasture to plate” tour of the Wall Meats Processing facility, where they were brought through the process of how the facility handles meat from start to finish. Following the tour, attendees were invited to sample food offered by Charfauros’ restaurant, The Red Rock Restaurant and Lounge, where meat is provided through Wall Meat Processing and view a presentation that detailed the future of Wall Meat.
Meat locker plants around the state are certainly not lacking the demand for their services. Before COVID-19, average processing wait times were as far out as three to six months. During COVID-19, larger locker plants were forced to close (mostly temporarily) or scale down their operations, causing a decline in meat availability statewide. Currently the demand is so high in places, that processing requests are either being turned away or placed on the books as far as a year out, with consumers seeking locally raised beef more and more everyday. “I’m backed up until June of 2021,” said Jim Antonsen, Public Lockers owner, Kadoka, S.D. Lemmon Made Inc., Lemmon, S.D. stated they are backed up until October of 2021. Wall Meat Processing owner, Ken Charfauros stated, “I can [hypothetically] cut all day, the current issue lies with storage. I have to know where I’m going to store it before I process.” This echoes the position of many locker plants statewide, and presumably nationwide.
The potentially allocated CARES Act funding could assist meat locker plants with concerns such as facility expansion, retaining current or hiring additional employees, inspection challenges (whether state or federal), efficiency and size of coolers, and the expenses of purchasing and updating equipment. Antonsen said that if CARES Act funding became available, he would most likely replace equipment and remodel. Charfauros is currently fully booked and is quickly running out of storage room. He is currently working to expand his facility in Wall, as well as implement a storefront in Rapid City. Lemmon Made Inc. said while an expansion is in the works, CARES Act funding could assist with the expansion.
“Through these meetings with local businesses, we are gathering what their needs are, how those needs relate to the impact caused by COVID-19 and if their requests are in line with the parameters for CARES Act funding,” he added. Representative Tom Brunner, who was present for the meeting, is Co-Chair for the Joint Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and will be bringing the opinions and suggestions made by business owners to the committee. The committee will then give their recommendations to the Joint Committee on Appropriations.
Haugaard stated that they are also attempting to discover if there are businesses that they can have a positive impact on. “Business owners shut down aspects of their businesses, being told to follow CDC guidelines, per requests at the state and federal levels,” he said. “Is the problem business owners have experienced, one they have directly experienced by the state and government shutdowns?”