June 3, 2022
US cattle farmers form beef cooperative in South Carolina
A group of cattle farmers in South Carolina, the United States, have formed the SC Beef Marketing Cooperative (SCBMC) to expedite beef processing capacity in the state and create a South Carolina-branded beef product.
The six existing meat processing facilities in the state are small scale operations not capable of keeping up with beef producers' needs. A study completed last year by Steven Richards, director of the SC Center for Cooperative and Enterprise Development, suggested that a US$3 million investment in the facilities could expand in-state processing capacity by 50% and create 50 new jobs.
"Processing capacity continues to be the most critical bottleneck to expanding the local meat supply," said Richards. "The second most important issue is to expand market outlets for local meat: more retail buying points and more offerings in grocery stores and restaurants. This cooperative association aims to work on both issues simultaneously."
South Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers also recognises the need for increased production and, in August 2021, sent a request to the SC Legislature for funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), specifically listing the lack of meat processing facilities as a concern.
In the $20 million request for Local Food Supply Chain Infrastructure Grants, Weathers noted: "Based upon a recent study of South Carolina beef/poultry processors and consumers, nonmarketing barriers (lack of processing availability, frozen storage space and refrigerated transportation) were a prime reason for an inability to process additional local proteins."
Weathers also stated in the request that producers in South Carolina would be willing to expand current operations if facilities could meet the demand.
On January 3, 2022, US President Joe Biden met with farmers from across the US and dedicated US$1 billion in ARPA funds for the expansion of independent processing capacity.
SCBMC, which was formed with the assistance of the SC Center for Cooperative and Enterprise Development (consisting of SC Department of Agriculture, Clemson University Cooperative Education, SC State Small Business Development Center and Matson Consulting), gives cattle farmers a leg up in applying for grants that would help expand beef processing in the state.
Expanding beef processing could also help preserve South Carolina's family farms, said Gwendolyn McPhail, treasurer of the co-op's board and owner of Black Diamond Sheep and Cattle in Seneca, South Carolina.
"We see a lot of open land in South Carolina that used to have cattle on it – but because there was not competitive pricing, because there was a processing backlog, a lot of smaller cattlemen have simply gone out of business," McPhail said. "I believe people will see new hope now in raising cattle and join us."