WASHINGTON – The US Department of Agriculture announced another $43 million investment in meat and poultry processing on March 9, focusing on research, innovation and expansion.

The latest funding comes through the American Rescue Plan and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).

Major news from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the USDA was a $25 million grant awarded to Wholestone Farms for a plant expansion in Fremont, Neb., as part of the Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program (MPPEP). Wholestone works as a cooperative with 195 independent pork producers, which employs 1,000 workers and 200 office workers.

The proposed expansion would add around 112,000 square feet that would be connected to the existing facility. The plant currently features an 89,000-square-foot cut floor and a 23,000-square-foot rendering building. With the expansion, Wholestone expects to allow second-shift operations, double its processing capacity and add approximately 950 new jobs.

“Investments like these will deliver long-term improvements in meat and poultry processing practices to benefit consumers, farmers and the environment,” Vilsack said. “We are excited to see how these investments will generate solutions that benefit all Americans.”

The agency said that another $13.9 million in grants from the Meat and Poultry Processing Research and Innovation – Small Business Innovation Research Phase III – program were awarded to 14 small and mid-sized meat and poultry processors.

Another $5 million grant was awarded to the University of Arkansas from the AFRI Center of Excellence for Meat and Poultry Processing and Food Safety Research and Innovation (MPPFSRI). The USDA stated that the university’s Center for Scalable and Intelligent Automation in Poultry Processing will incorporate basic and applied research in meat and poultry processing and food safety to encourage technological innovation and decrease industry barriers to safety and processing.

The grants are administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

“Farmers rely on technology to become more efficient and profitable,” Vilsack said. “Under the Biden-Harris Administration and through historic funding investments, USDA continues to invest in research processing expansion that will create new and better markets and expand opportunities for small businesses and rural communities. This investment will help enable that vision.”

Examples of MPPFSRI Phase III projects include:

  • Biotronics Inc. in Ames, Iowa, developed and commercialized technology with funding from USDA SBIR Phase I and Phase II grants that utilize ultrasound scans for measuring backfat, muscle depth and intramuscular fat in its products. Additional funding will allow Biotronics to optimize technology for small and mid-size packers to reduce operation size and costs, streamline processes and minimize plant installation.

The company will also validate online scanning and carcass processing, install a compact prototype system, and train plant operators for scanning and maintenance procedures. Biotronics will work with a small packing plant, The Pork Company LLC in Warsaw, NC.

  • Halomine Inc., Ithaca, NY, developed an antimicrobial coating that significantly improves poultry and meat processing sanitation technology and important food safety advances. Grants from USDA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) SBIR funded development of the product.

The coating, HaloFilm, offsets harmful pathogens and prevents biofilms on various surfaces within meat manufacturing environments, thus reducing the incidence of foodborne illnesses and increasing productivity. With this funding, Halomine will perform pilot studies and trials working with Steadfast Farms LLC, Bethlehem, Conn.

  • Cinder Biological Inc., San Leandro, Calif., will extend work from its NSF SBIR work to improve meat and poultry sanitization. The technology incorporates natural enzymes from volcanic springs to produce the world’s most acidic and heat stable enzymes.

Using this more natural system will reduce the use of ammonium-based disinfectants, improve food safety and reduce occupational hazards in processing operations, according to the grant proposal. Cinder Biological Inc. will partner with Cream Co. Meats, Oakland, Calif.

As part of the MPPFSRI Phase III funding investments, prior Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) recipients with relevant technologies were invited to apply for this funding opportunity.

USDA said selected awardees must provide non-restrictive access or non-exclusive licenses to any technologies or related enabling technologies developed under this award to help small and mid-size processors use the technology.