Gov. Evers, DATCP to pour $5M into bolstering meat talent development

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Cecilia Alonso, left, and Patricia Ledesma, right, work at Sailer's Food Market and Meat Processing on Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, in Elmwood, Wis.

Gov. Tony Evers says an investment of $5 million will help the meat processing industry by attracting new talent into the field and providing new opportunities for potential workers.

The Governor with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP),said the funding will be used to attract and provide financial support to students in Wisconsin meat processing training programs, as well as support program development and connect the meat processing industry with potential employees.

“The last several years have brought challenges to every sector of our agricultural economy, including meat processing,” said Gov. Evers. “This investment will reduce barriers to careers in meat processing, provide new opportunities to workers across our state, and ensure our food supply chain remains resilient and successful well into Wisconsin's future.”

While the state's meat processing industry enjoys a long history and a prosperous future with thousands of livestock producers across the state and hundreds of meat establishments, meat processing plants have struggled to find workers to fill critical positions.

Gov. Tony Evers

Many of the 500 state and federally inspected meat plants have been forced, at times, to run at reduced capacity due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Fearing meat shortages, many consumers flocked to smaller, locally owned meat plants to secure meat for their households. 

Jake Sailer, who owns Sailer's Food Market and Meat Processing in Elmwood, Wis., said his business has been booked solid since spring of 2020, when shutdowns, caused by COVID-19, at the largest meatpacking plants in the country put new focus on local and regional processors.

Jeff Sindelar, meat specialist for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Division of Extension, told Wisconsin Public Radio that even before the pandemic, the processing industry already struggled with finding enough skilled employees and dealing with aging equipment.

Now that the country is emerging from the pandemic, Sindelar said there is a real interest from the meat industry and from government officials to make sure the same vulnerabilities don’t continue.

Jeff Sindelar

"Lets be prepared so that if an event, God forbid COVID, but if something like that were to happen again, that the Wisconsin meat industry wouldn't be so vulnerable and the population of the state would be protected with a stable food supply," Sindelar said.

Funded through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), Evers says the $5 million investment builds on the state's continued commitment to invest in and support programs that reduce barriers to employment, provide skills and job training opportunities, and ensure growth and retention of Wisconsin's workforce, in addition to building long-term success in the state's food processing industry. 

Other monies that have been earmarked for the industry in the 2021-23 biennial budget proposal include $2 million for meat processors to expand and modernize their operations, $2.63 million for a Meat Talent Development Program, and additional meat inspectors to keep up with the industry.

While the Legislature gave the green light to the Meat Processor Grant Program, as well as four new meat inspector positions at DATCP, funding for the talent development program was left on the table.

Randy Romanski

“Gov. Evers recognizes that agriculture is our strength, and he is continuing to invest in our agriculture industry,” said DATCP Secretary Randy Romanski. “With up to $5 million available for meat talent development programming, people across Wisconsin will have the opportunity to access and obtain training they might not otherwise be able to afford, and we will be able to better connect potential employees with the industry. Today’s announcement builds on the investments in the 2021-23 budget and strengthens our food supply chain and workforce for years to come.”

Wisconsin Public Radio contributed to this report