BROOKINGS — SDSU Extension has selected Dr. Christina Bakker to serve as a meat science field specialist.
Bakker, originally from Lake Benton, Minnesota, finished her Ph.D. in animal science in May from SDSU. Prior to stepping into her Extension role in late November, she served as a post-doctoral researcher in meat science in the SDSU Animal Science Department.
SDSU Extension created the field specialist position to develop workforce training and serve as a resource for meat processors in the state.
“With this initiative, SDSU Extension is positioned to provide the training and technical resources that will support the workforce development needs of the small meat packing industry in South Dakota,” SDSU Extension Director Karla Trautman said. “This effort demonstrates our commitment to providing transformational strategies that meet the critical needs of South Dakota and its communities.”
While challenges in meat processing existed prior to COVID-19 hitting South Dakota, the pandemic highlighted issues facing labor, capacity and resources more than ever.
“When COVID hit, we were repeatedly hearing about challenges across the state concerning the lack of capacity and resources in the meat processing industry,” Dr. Amanda Blair, Professor and SDSU Extension Meat Science Specialist, said. “This new position will help fill the need for a resource focused on these challenges facing in our state meat processors.”
Small processing plants oftentimes need employees to be skilled in more than one sector of the process, which drives the demand for skilled labor. As small-scale facilities ramped up production during the pandemic, the lack of workforce training and limiting capacity became a challenge many processors faced. While this high demand has caused several small plants to look to expand and other individuals to become interested in building new plants, the need for guiding resources to navigate these developments also became prevalent.
“At some small processors, there are waitlists for animals as far out as February 2022 or later,” Bakker said. “We need to focus on building the workforce to handle current capacity limitations.”
Through her role, Bakker will help mitigate these challenges facing processors. One of her primary responsibilities includes developing a series of short courses regarding workforce development and job training. She will also serve as a resource for those with questions about expanding capacity or building new plants and can guide people to other tools that can help resolve these challenges.
“I’ve wanted to be in Extension ever since I was an undergraduate student,” Bakker said. “I am excited to teach the general public, connect with meat processors and keep information flowing in this role.”