Oklahoma State University has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture worth nearly $500,000 to strengthen and explore new market opportunities for local and regional meat businesses.
The funding comes at a particularly opportune time for Oklahoma, as an already-growing trend of consumer interest in locally sourced food has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, said OSU researchers Courtney Bir, OSU Extension specialist and assistant professor in the OSU Department of Agricultural Economics; JJ Jones, OSU Extension area agricultural economist; and Rodney Holcomb, agribusiness economist for OSU’s Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center.
The project's purpose is to provide online and in-person education and OSU Extension materials to inform producers about direct-to-consumer meat sales and marketing. Some of those materials may be available to the public as soon as October, said Bir, the lead investigator.
Direct-to-consumer meat sales and custom harvests are not simple endeavors for ranchers, Bir said. There are many food safety rules and sales regulations that must be understood before a rancher can begin selling directly to consumers or retailers. Even then, knowing how to market the products and reach consumers remain significant hurdles.
The award itself is $388,224, with matching funds of $97,056 bringing the total to $485,280. It is part of the USDA's recent announcement of a $90.2 million investment in 203 projects across the country.
Collaborators include the Food Safety Division of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry; the Oklahoma/Texas Meat Processor Association; local businesses and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
"Small- and medium-size farmers, ranchers and processors have an important role in strengthening our food supply chain,” said Jenny Lester Moffitt, USDA under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs. “These USDA local and regional food grants will help these agricultural businesses build, expand and sustain the processing, distribution and storage systems that will help move food from the farm to the table."
Funding comes from grant programs administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service as part of the Local Agriculture Marketing Program, the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Programs, and the Regional Food System Partnerships.