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Small-Scale Meat Processors Could See Beefier Cut Of The Market

Facebook / Senator Casey Murdock
Sen. Casey Murdock (R-Felt), seen here in 2019, chaired an interim study on beef processing at the Capitol on Monday, Sept. 21.

The Oklahoma Senate held an interim study Monday on the state of the beef processing industry in Oklahoma and the challenges and opportunities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Rodney Holcomb, an Oklahoma State University agricultural economist, said slowdowns in processing by bigger operations have led to higher demand in smaller-scale facilities.

"The one thing we do know: Local food production, or what we call 'story meat' -- people not just buying the piece of meat, they're buying the story that comes with it -- that is creating a lot of opportunities for further meat processing in the state, which does mean we have a local backstop in the event of a future pandemic that disrupts the national, big-packer industry," Holcomb said.

Jake Nelson, executive director of the Oklahoma Texas Meat Processors Association, agreed, saying demand for such processors was already high before the pandemic.

"Everyone talks about the long wait times now, and the pandemic amplified that, but I can tell you before the pandemic there was a long wait list if you wanted an animal to be custom processed," Nelson said. "The fact that there's a long wait list, to me, in my simple economics -- and I'm not an economist -- that says there's opportunity to grow that category."

Holcomb said small processors in the state span anywhere from a few dozen employees to just a husband and wife team.

Sen. Casey Murdock (R-Felt), chair of the Senate Agriculture and Wildlife Committee and a cattle rancher himself, said working to encourage more small-scale operators to set up shop would be "an investment in rural Oklahoma."

"My district is about as rural as you can get," Murdock said. "Five to 10 jobs in any community that I have in my district would be a home run for economic development."

"What I see what has happened this year in the protein sources, not just in Oklahoma but across the country, what I see is an opportunity for ag producers, especially livestock producers, to get into a market they have never had an opportunity to be in," Murdock said.

According to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Oklahoma has the fourth-most heads of cattle in the nation, with 5.3 million. According to the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association, beef cattle are the "number one agriculture economic driver" in the state.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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