Report Offers Ways Minnesota Meat Processors Can Replenish Diminished Workforce – Agweek
(Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series on meat processing in Minnesota. Next week’s article will focus on succession planning for meat processing owners. meat and introduce the family behind Burt’s Meats to Eyota)
The first step to solving Minnesota’s meat processing bottleneck is to admit it has a problem.
Currently, livestock producers in Minnesota are facing limited access to meat processing due to closures and appointment backlogs, and existing processors are struggling to retain their workforce and meet to the increase in demand. It is according to a
funded by the Minnesota Farmers Union, the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
Agweek Podcast: Solving Minnesota’s Meat Processing Bottleneck
Thu Aug 11 5:59:56 PM EDT 2022
The report compiled responses from interviews with 57 meat processors in rural Minnesota, with respondents providing information on their opinions and attitudes about how to strengthen the meat processing industry and its workforce. reduced work. The report includes feedback from potential workers as well as business owners.
“Sometimes opportunities emerge from crisis,” said Paul Sobocinski, one of the report’s authors.
Sobocinksi, a Redwood County cattle rancher who raises hogs for Niman Ranch as well as cattle for direct and market sale, has worked as a farm organizer for more than 40 years, primarily for the Land Stewardship Project.
He said the state’s small meat processors are not just used by farmers, but by entire communities.
“Small meat processing plants have a vital economic impact in rural communities,” Sobocinski said. “In some rural communities, they are the mainstay of that community, and we can name a number of them across the state who are exactly that.”
The other authors of the report were Ted Suss, a retired school principal and former Minnesota legislator who now raises cattle in Redwood County; Maya Benedict, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota Public Health who worked as a butcher and store operations manager in St. Paul; Courtney VanderMey, grants specialist at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, who is working to complete her master’s degree in agribusiness, with a thesis on assessing the needs of meat processing companies in Minnesota; and Don Arnosti, an environmentalist who has worked to support a sustainable local food system as a way to fight climate change.
“We brought all of these partners together and looked at what can be done to address this bottleneck,” Sobocinski said. “And so came up with the report, and a number of recommendations.”
The report found that meat processors are at capacity and owners are struggling to retain reliable, long-term employees.
“Labour is a major issue for small meat processors, and that element had to be addressed,” said Sobicinski, who conducted about 20 interviews for the report.
Half of those interviewed by Sobocinski had graduated from the meat-cutting program at Minnesota West Technical College in Pipestone.
“It’s been closed for 20 years,” he said of the school, which cut classes in 2006 due to declining enrollment.
The author’s recommendations in the report include creating a year-long apprenticeship for workers, with hands-on training in slaughtering and meat processing; establishing a funding pool for processors to access trainee resettlement packages, retention bonuses and training programs; and developing business transition training materials and resources.
Sobocinski doesn’t buy into the adage that “no one wants to work anymore” and thinks labor shortages are more related to a lack of opportunity, especially for communities of color.
“To demonstrate to high school students and immigrant communities that there is opportunity for growth,” said Sobocinski of the meat processing industry. “In addition to being an employee, you can be an entrepreneur – our country was founded on entrepreneurship.”
The author’s team partnered with the Latino Economic Development Center to interview Latinos and other immigrant workers currently in larger slaughterhouses. Sobocinski said many respondents shared the desire to eventually run or own their own locker factory, but encountered obstacles such as language barriers.
“For the immigrant community, an opportunity to take that second step after coming to this country and working hard,” Sobocinski said. “Including the ability, perhaps at some point, to get involved – not just to manage, but also to become an owner.”
The report recommends that the MDA fund a navigator position to help reach people who want to work in meat processing. Sobocinski said it would make sense for the MDA to seek support through the Latino Economic Development Center, which has a long history of working with immigrant communities.
“They have the cultural ability to reach people, and you face language barriers and people who might have a different way of thinking than mine — a white man — might have,” he said. . “It’s important to understand that and work with people where they are.”
Sobocinski said investing in small meat processors is a win-win solution for farmers and workers who want to become entrepreneurs.
“In the past, our country was culturally diverse, and that strengthens us as we look at how we can come together and build our ability to bring more dollars back to our local communities,” Sobocinski said.