Small meat processors saw an uptick in business during the COVID-19 pandemic when large packing plants suffered from supply chain delays and employee health issues.

To help boost small meat packers, the USDA has granted the Nebraska’s Center for Rural Affairs $10 million that is now available as low-interest loans with friendly terms to independent meat processers in the state.

Connie Hansen of River Lane Simmentals in Brady said the pandemic would have caused significant delays in processing their cattle during 2020 and 2021 if it weren’t for long-standing relationship with Country Pride Processing in Wallace.

“They (Country Pride) called us early in the season to let us know their schedules were filling up and we needed to pick dates,” Hansen said.

Center for Rural Affairs Executive Director Brian Depew said independent livestock farmers rely on small meat processors to process their animals into marketable products.

“And, as the pandemic illustrated, they’re a critical pillar of a resilient food system in times of crisis,” Depew said.

Both primary (slaughter) and secondary (packing) businesses are eligible for loans to support their businesses.

“Challenges for small meat lockers started long before the pandemic,” Depew said. “Consolidation in livestock production, retiring owners and aging facilities had already shuttered many small-town lockers. It is common for farmers to drive an hour or more to find custom slaughter and processing.”

Hansen agreed, noting that they make the hour-long trip from Brady to Wallace several times a year.

According to the Center’s website, the loans can be used in different ways to support meat packing businesses.

• Expansion of existing business 
• Start-up of new business
• Real estate purchase
• New construction
• Facilities update or expansion
• Equipment purchase
• Energy efficiency upgrades to facilities and equipment 
• Purchase of an existing business 
• Working capital

Workers needed

Brad DaMoude of Country Pride Processing has not used such loans but said these types of grants are on the right track. However, he thinks there needs to be more emphasis on education for youth.

“I have new equipment,” DaMoude said. “What I need are more qualified employees.”

He would like to see a trade school provide hands-on training for students who want to enter the field.

“We need a small vo-tech school that focuses on hands-on training,” he said.

Facilities like Country Pride cannot operate at full capacity because they cannot find qualified workers.
DaMounde spends a lot of time training people who just want a job, but do not necessarily intend to stay in the field.

“I want to be able to call a school and tell them I’m hiring and get a few interns,” he said. “Right now that option doesn’t exist.”

Depew and DaMoude believe expanding these services for independent meat processors ultimately helps support local farmers and ranchers.

“Our local meat lockers need and deserve our support and assistance,” Depew said. “We will continue to bring policy change, technical assistance, and lending support to the sector because we understand that local food processing infrastructure is a cornerstone of a vibrant and sustainable rural future.”

Interested borrowers can contact Wyatt Fraas at 402.254.6893 or

(This report was first published in the Bulletin’s March 8 print edition.)

Jordan Fosbinder puts up vacuum sealed beef cuts for Country Pride in Wallace.

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