New Group Sinks Teeth into Meaty Issues

US - There was a time, in Iowa, when many rural communities supported a small meat processing plant, where farmers could get hogs or calves butchered for family and friends, or hunters could get wild game processed. These businesses also rented lockers where customers could store large quantities of meat in the days before refrigeration.
calendar icon 17 January 2008
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In 1965, Iowa had more than 550 small meat processing plants, compared to fewer than 200 today. However, recent consumer interest in locally raised organic and natural meat also is increasing the demand for meat processing facilities.

According to Leopold Centre for Sustainable Agriculture a team of researchers, entrepreneurs, regulators and producer groups hopes to change the Iowa landscape for small, independent meat processors. The team, which has been meeting over the past 18 months, hopes to help small Iowa meat processors begin, upgrade or expand their businesses.

"Meat is one of the fastest growing sectors nationally for the 'natural and organic' foods market"
Leopold Center Associate Director Rich Pirog

The team is called the Small Meat Processors Working Group, supported by the Value Chain Partnerships project that is coordinated by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. Leopold Center Associate Director Rich Pirog said this team addresses important challenges to making local and regional foods more available in Iowa.

"Farmers, consumers and food and agricultural organizations have repeatedly cited the need for more local and regional processing facilities that provide farmer access to emerging markets," Pirog said. "Meat is one of the fastest growing sectors nationally for the 'natural and organic' foods market, and something that Iowa farmers produce and sell year-round."

The Small Meat Processors Working Group is coordinated by Arion Thiboumery of the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development at ISU. Participants include owners of several Iowa lockers as well as representatives from the Iowa Meat Processors Association, ISU's Center for Industrial Research and Service and ISU Extension (Meat Science and Value Added Agriculture), Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, the Meat and Poultry Inspection Bureau of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Department of Economic Development and the Drake University Agricultural Law Center.

"The coordination and bridging of technical assistance across these groups are critical to the success of small meat processors, and all have been interested in supporting these businesses, but individually were unable to tackle some of the problems," Thiboumery said. "Together we are putting together the pieces of the puzzle that we hope will result in new plants that meet regulations, with profitable bottom lines, Iowa-raised livestock moving through them, and economic development for Iowa's communities."

As part of a related marketing project funded by the Leopold Center, workshops for small meat processors will be offered again in 2008, he added. The workshops will focus on marketing and business planning skills. They are scheduled April 21 in Spirit Lake, May 15 in Ames, and June 11 in Cedar Falls.

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