Region’s meat processing plants facing backlogs

A customer shops for meat at a supermarket on June 10, 2021 in Chicago. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/TNS)

WATERTOWN — Money, an experienced leader and employees will be what it takes to open another livestock processor and offset the backlog among local butchers, area meat processing officials said.

There are a few small, high quality plants in the north country that can process pigs or cows, but now some are backlogged into February 2022. They shouldn’t be discounted, Rodman farmer Stephen Winkler said, but it’s just hard to compete with larger plants in neighboring states.

Mr. Winkler said he pays roughly $16 for one pig to be processed at a plant he uses in Pennsylvania, while he pays roughly $60 to process one pig at a plant he uses in New York. There’s a need for a larger, more efficient plant in the north country certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and farmers in the area have been working to get it done for roughly a decade.

“I’m a believer it’s going to happen,” Mr. Winkler said. “I don’t know when, but I’m confident.”

Mr. Winkler said it’ll take three things to make this happen. It’ll take a vast investment, an experienced person who understands livestock processing and knows how to market the product, and employees who are willing to be on their feet for eight hours with a knife. But it’s not like doubling the size automatically doubles the profit. There has to be a plan set in place first.

Dave Anguzza, general manager of Gold Medal Packing in Rome, said he’s been wrestling with tapping into the supply chain accountability. Infrastructure has deteriorated, and it’ll take a large investment to rebuild it to make a plant. The stamp of being USDA certified is very important from an economical standpoint because it shows the food is safe and therefore allows it to be sold worldwide.

And to Mr. Winkler’s point, Mr. Anguzza said labor in the meat processing industry is hard to find. He said he’s been working on having the processing, butchering and packaging end of the business be considered a trade. Right now it’s not, but adding it to the curriculum and teaching it in schools will turn it into a career with benefits instead of a difficult job.

Above all, the demand from customers in the north country is there. It’s just that over the years, blight has hurt many farms and an economy has deteriorated, and it’ll take a lot of cash to rebuild it.

“There are puzzle pieces laying all around and we are trying to put them together,” Mr. Anguzza said.

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