Meaty issues - processing plant working group

Farm and Food

By Marie Powell, former staff member

There was a time 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 quantities of meat in the days before refrigeration.

In 1965, Iowa had more than 550 small meat processing plants, compared to less than 200 today. Most states have seen similar declines. However, recent consumer interest in locally-raised organic and natural meat also is increasing the demand for meat processing facilities. In addition, the draft farm bill contains provisions to encourage interstate sales by state-inspected processing plants.

A team of researchers, entrepreneurs, regulators, and producer groups hopes to change the Iowa landscape for small, independent meat processors. This Small Meat Processors Working Group has met over the past 18 months and hopes to help small Iowa meat processors begin, upgrade, or expand their businesses.

The Working Group is coordinated by Arion Thiboumery of the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development and is sponsored by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, both part of Iowa State University.

“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," Arion said.

As part of a related marketing project funded by the Leopold Center, workshops for small meat processors will be offered in 2008, he added. The workshops will focus on marketing and business planning skills.