Montana Farmers Union (MFU) is working to address food security in the Big Sky State. Recently, the group announced a new collaboration with MSU-Northern in Havre to help further that mission.
MFU has secured money to start a cooperative mobile meat processing business with MSU-Northern, teaching students meat processing from harvest to retail.
MFU President Walter Schweitzer said the collaboration will help create jobs and provide more local food options for consumers.
“We've kind of lost the meatpacking capacity that we once had. And to regrow that, we're going to have to have a skilled workforce to do it,” explained Schweitzer.
To purchase the mobile meat processing unit, Montana Farmers Union is using $150,000 from the Montana Meat Processing Infrastructure Grant (MMPIG), which is funded by federal coronavirus relief dollars.
In addition, Farmers Union partners in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Farmers Union Enterprise (FUE) will each invest an additional $150,000 to purchase and set up the meat processing cooperative.
Schweitzer said it will take a skilled labor force with hands-on experiential learning to grow meat processing in the state.
“We're going to need the workers the people to put in those plants,” said Schweitzer. “Together with Montana State University-Northern, we're going to work to do that. We are creating a one-of-a-kind mobile meat processing curriculum for here in the United States. This is going to start from harvest all the way through to retail. This program will be a one-year certificate. Or it could be a four-year degree."
Schweitzer explained that the educational opportunities will help students learn all aspects of the meat processing business.
“It's going to include business management, regulatory and marketing. That way, when you graduate from this program, you could manage one of these new meat processing plants or work in it. The other thing it will do is, it will train meat inspectors. Because if we are going to expand the meat processing industry here in Montana, we are going to need more inspectors.”
MFU hopes to have the MHU operational by early next spring. MSU-Northern plans to have a curriculum in place by fall semester 2021.