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Cherokee Nation, USDA To Study Feasibility of Commercial Meat Processing

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The Cherokee Nation and United States Department of Agriculture will create a working group to study whether bringing a large-scale red meat processing to northeastern Oklahoma is feasible.

Principal Chief Bill John Baker and USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development Doug O’Brien signed a memorandum of understanding this week that will develop a working group to analyze beef, chevon and lamb production, processing and consumption in northeastern Oklahoma. The group will also recommend the best strategies for marketing the products in the area.

“Anything we can do at the tribal level to enhance rural development, we must explore,” Baker said in a press release. “Agro-economic development has a traditional role in the Cherokee Nation’s history. We have always been smart stewards of our agriculture resources. This new possibility is something we can add to our business portfolio going forward. In addition to creating jobs, we can offer our citizens and this region healthy, safe and affordable food options.”

The MOU involves partnerships between the Cherokee Nation, the USDA, the State of Oklahoma, agricultural producers and market analysts. The group has six months to analyze the data and return recommendations to Chief Baker and Under Secretary O’Brien, who will decide whether to move forward.

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“We think there is real economic opportunity in local and regional food systems,” said O’Brien, who is based in Washington, D.C. “This is an exciting opportunity for local producers to provide food to local institutions, like schools. The Cherokee Nation is poised for success, and we are glad to support it.”

Currently, area ranchers send cattle to out-of-state commercial processing facilities, and then buyers must purchase the processed product at an increased price due to shipping costs because of rising fuel prices. The study would consider whether a regional commercial processing facility is more cost efficient.

Oklahoma State Director of USDA Rural Development Ryan McMullen said the Cherokee Nation has been extremely progressive in making investments in local food systems.

“This agreement could ultimately lead to value added products for consumers across the nation,” McMullen said.