Two Jefferson County businesses, Dahl Ranch and Devils Fence Beef, received COVID-19 relief funds from the state of Montana through Meat Processing Infrastructure Grants.
At the same time, processors have reported a greater demand due to the pandemic.
In all, 40 of Montana’s small and medium-sized meat processors received $4.2 million in additional coronavirus relief as a way to boost in-state processing and increase storage capacity,” according to the governor’s office.
This is the second release of funds through the program, as $7.5 million in grant funds were awarded to 62 processors in early August.
One of the recipients, Dahl Ranch in Clancy, has been in operation since 1917. The current owner, Marlee Johnson, is the fourth generation to run the ranch. For Johnson, COVID increased demand by consumers.
“Last spring at the peak of the meat shortage I was getting three to four people contacting me a day trying to get meat,” Johnson said. The grant, which amounts to $25,435 to assist with equipment purchases and facility modifications to increase cold storage and processing capacity, will allow Dahl Ranch to expand their pig program.
“This will allow us to be able to sell meat by the individual cuts, filling that demand … it will allow all of us to keep our meat and money locally and provide more local jobs. Plus it gives us all more options and food security, said Johnson.
Increased demand for local beef during COVID-19 also spurred Devils Fence Beef of Boulder to apply for funding, as well.
Devils Fence Beef is another long-standing Montana family business run by Bo Carey, his wife Kelly, his brother Justin, and sister-in-law Brittani.
“The original Carey Ranch was homesteaded in 1896 and has grown into several different family operations spanning down the Boulder Valley today. My brother and I are part of the fifth generation to work our family’s ranching operation. The Devils Fence namesake comes from the geologic area on the south end of the Elkhorn Mountains,” said Carey.
When it comes to COVID, Carey describes it as a double-edged sword.
“It has greatly increased the demand, however, it has made a challenge for our business, in that we cannot get as many animals processed to sell,” he said.
Like many Montana ranches, limited freezer space and waiting times for animal processing became a barrier between rancher and customer. The grant money Devils Fence Beef received ($25,000) will go toward accommodating increasing demand for local beef by expanding cold storage, and allowing the ranch to have a small storefront.
“Knowing where your food comes from gives people peace of mind and allows them to support local businesses,” said Carey, adding, “The greater the ability of our local businesses to supply clientele the more likely our dollars stay in state. By purchasing local beef, not only are you helping out local ranchers, but also local meat processors and other businesses that supply inputs into the finished product.”