SHERIDAN — Discussions surrounding a potential $222,000 study presented by the Wyoming Business Council led to the council halting the process to refine the study proposal.
The study was initiated by 2018 Wyoming Legislature Senate File 108. Within the bill, legislators requested that the Wyoming Business Council focus efforts on expanding the existing agriculture marketing program, thus providing for international trade representatives. More specifically, the bill requires WBC to develop a strategy to create small regionally-located beef processing plants inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and mid-to-large-sized processing plants for international sales.
There are currently only a few USDA plants in Wyoming, according to the WBC and USDA meat, poultry and egg product inspection directory: Wyoming Legacy Meats and Wyoming Authentic Products in Cody, Hi Mountain Jerky in Riverton, and Bovine and Swine and Lockhart Meat Company in Jackson.
A few studies have been done throughout the state identifying needs related to the meat market in Wyoming. Ron Harvey, who chaired the committee for this project, dug up two prior studies focused on a 2008 federal farm bill allowing the distribution of state-inspected meat across state lines and a 2004 study identifying potential use of mobile slaughter units. Wyoming did not participate in the program set up by the federal farm bill.
“The scope of work and the timeline (for the new project), it is aggressive,” Harvey said. “And it will answer a lot of the questions that were left hanging with previous studies I could find.”
Major questions remaining after the 2004 study included what entity would own and operate a mobile slaughter unit in Wyoming?
The question remains unanswered by other studies or practical applications of mobile slaughter units. Harvey believes the new study would answer that and other remaining questions for the industry.
“We ultimately want to add value to Wyoming producers and pave the way for private industries to take over,” Harvey said.
The question, in slightly different format, remains today: What private sector meat producer would step up to possibly own and operate a medium-to-large USDA-approved facility? Current private-sector meat producers believe that size would not be necessary for the current demand in Wyoming.
Kelly Lockhart and his family own Lockhart Cattle Co. and a small, USDA-approved company, Lockhart Meat Company, in Jackson.
“I think that this $222,000 for an out-of-state company to study our markets is not the direction we should go,” Lockhart said. “I would argue that the private sector, as is evidenced by the fact that there are several facilities in the state that are up-and-running as well as another one that’s about to go into the ground (in Laramie), can best be handled by the private sector.”
Lockhart said he would likely not support the study, and that the large amount of funds would be better spent on the private sector already satisfying the need for producers in Wyoming.
For Lockhart and his family’s business, working with federal entities proved easier than state entities for becoming certified. He said other private meat production companies are looking to become USDA certified.
Participants in the call-in WBC meeting Monday agreed funds would be better utilized to look at regional needs in Wyoming and opportunities for smaller entities to become USDA certified, rather than creating or expanding businesses into a larger facility that would then have to compete with large USDA facilities in surrounding states.
In Sheridan, the closest USDA-approved facilities are in Cody. Meat producers in Sheridan also frequent Miles City, Montana, for processing. Other cattle companies can process meat in state-approved facilities if they keep the meet within state borders. The idea of the study, though, would be to expand the Wyoming meat market outside state boundaries and move internationally.
Board member Megan Goetz of Laramie moved that the WBC staff take comments made at the call-in meeting and propose a more comprehensive analysis of study objectives to the board at a public study session.
The board passed the motion unanimously and plan to meet at a later date.