By Tom Driscoll, Director of NFU Foundation and Conservation Policy

The Climate Column has covered a number of grazing practices that encourage soil health, such as prescribed grazing and rotational grazing. These practices store atmospheric carbon in the soil while protecting forage from the increasingly volatile precipitation patterns driven by climate change, allowing producers to both mitigate and adapt to climate change. Managing grazing for soil health can be a smart business decision as well; it may lead to savings on feed and inputs.

With lower costs, producers would not have to raise as many animals to be profitable. But there is significant market and regulatory pressure that discourages farmers from raising fewer animals, which has hindered the growth of managed grazing. Where, how, and to whom meat may legally be sold is severely limited unless the animal is processed at a federally inspected facility. However, as a recent Bloomberg article noted, the number of processing facilities has plummeted over the past 50 years. Producers often are required to raise large numbers of animals, often more than can feasibly be raised through managed grazing, to build orders large enough for the remaining, large-scale processors.

Are producers who would like to raise fewer livestock with managed grazing but don’t farm near – or can’t reliably access – an oft-overbooked, appropriately-sized processor relegated to non-inspected markets, or simply out of luck? The answer is no; consumer interest in smaller-batch meat is growing, but the lack of smaller, federally inspected processors is a significant bottleneck. To help solve the problem, interested producers can both organize among themselves as well as network with local Farmers Union and other farm and rural organizations to reach this growing market.

Additionally, farmers can turn to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for help. The Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP), run by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), awards planning grants, which can include feasibility assessments of federally inspected processing for local markets, and implementation grants, which cover the costs associated with starting such a business. Another USDA agency, Rural Development (RD), offers a number of loan and grant programs for rural businesses that could help fund a small-scale, inspected processor. They also offer financial support and technical resources to support cooperative development; farmers could build and own processing capacity cooperatively to ensure it serves their needs. State governments and regional cooperative development centers also have resources to encourage development of these businesses.

When producers organize to improve market access for meat from managed pasture, they can secure enhanced value and bolster their local economies while also adapting to – and mitigating the negative impacts of – climate change. Do you have access to federally inspected processing at managed grazing scale? Would you be interested in working with producers in your area to gain that access?

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