“Challenges” of Direct-Marketing Meat

In the article below, two livestock producers discuss what they consider to be challenges in direct marketing meat.  It seems their biggest challenge is a lack of processing infrastructure in their region.  I understand that — but, what’s your solution?  Who’s building a plant? Who will do the work? Many thoughts enter my mind when reading such articles, including: (1) why did the infrastructure disappear?, (2) why is it a challenge to work with your processor?, and (3) if you don’t like what the processor does, why don’t you just do it yourself?

The possible reasons for this are many, but I suspect the common theme of the producer/processor disconnect is mostly to blame.  Producers like to blame the processor for problems, and processors attribute many headaches to producers.  There is a fundamental problem with not always realizing that one “side” cannot exist without the other.  Moreover, in visiting with many small processors, they often feel “taken advantage of” or under-appreciated by farmers.  Consequently, such lack of recognition has back-burnered the priority status of the small meat packing industry in many states (I’m grateful to not be in one of those states).  As per the usual “telling of ag’s story” (whatever that means), the story is producer-centric, highlighting the “woes” of the farmer.

Sorry, but I don’t buy it.  If … just if … the disappearance of the small processor can be somewhat attributed to a lack of support (and back when this happened, “agvocacy” wasn’t even on the radar) by the producer?  Ultimately, is this a producer-related problem? Unlike ranchers and famers, small processors don’t have legions of allied farming and ranching lobbyists or checkoff dollars to combat the issue d’jour.  These are the things I think about…

Farming and ranching is hard work — I know this, live this, and appreciate this — yet, I also know it can be a real cakewalk compared with operating an independent USDA-inspected slaughterhouse.

A few other comments:

  1. Why should a processor accommodate everything a producer wants if he or she is already booked?
  2. A 2″-thick spec’d to 12-oz. isn’t always possible — depends on how big the loin muscle is
  3. Chances are the butcher knows more about cutting meat than the producer (just sayin’)
  4. Maybe they really do think they’re doing you a “favor”…  one they don’t have to do at all

Ron Pulley and Cindy Goertz discuss challenges of direct marketing meat

Every producer wants to make more from the product they produce. But deciding how to market that product to get the best possible price can be a challenge. Two producers in Wyoming recently spoke of the benefits and challenges of direct marketing beef and pork during the Living and Working on the Land – The Building Blocks of Success conference in Torrington, WY.

The two-day conference was designed for producers who wanted to add value to the products they raise. The conference featured speakers talking about everything from free range poultry, to raising fruits and vegetables, farmer’s marketing, and direct meat marketing.

Cindy Goertz of Wyoming Pure Natural Beef and Ron Pulley of Wyoming Heritage Hogs discussed the challenges and opportunities they have encountered selling their meat products directly to the public.

Goertz and Pulley both agreed one of the biggest challenges in direct marketing meat is finding a reliable meat processor that is located within a manageable distance. In Wyoming, producers are required to use a meat processor who is USDA-licensed if they wish to sell meat across state lines. If the meat will all be marketed within the state, they can use a state licensed processor.

“It is ridiculous,” explained Pulley, who uses a state-licensed processor. “I live within minutes of Nebraska, but can’t cross the state line to sell meat there without violating state codes. However, my customers can cross the state line into Wyoming to purchase meat from me.”

Since there are no USDA-licensed processors in Wyoming, Goertz said they are forced to take their beef to Colorado for processing. “When we got into direct marketing seven or eight years ago, we decided we wanted to be able to ship meat across state lines. Finding a processor that you can trust, will do the job you want him to do, and still be cost-effective is very hard to do,” she said, noting they went through a number of processors before finally settling on one in Kersey, CO.

Pulley said many processors are only willing to do so much for producers who direct market meat. “If I tell a processor, I want 12-ounce pork chops, two-inches thick, and shoulder roasts in four-pound packages, they should be able to do that. The bad news is they usually give you what they want to, and what is easy for them,” he explained. “It is a real problem in the business.”

Pulley said he settled on a processor that is only 10 miles away from his farm, but he has sacrificed having the meat packaged a certain way, in favor of the processor’s standards. “Their attitude is they are doing my processing as a favor to me,” he said. “They are used to processing meat according to what the (grocery store they supply) wants.

“Some processors are just not used to meeting specifications for custom processing,” Pulley continued. “My problem is, if I have to travel further to get my hogs processed, it will increase my cost significantly. If I take four to five hogs at a time to Eaton, Colorado, I have to take the hogs down there, go get the meat, and then make a third trip for the rest. I would have 1,000 miles just to get four or five hogs processed. Someone has to pay for that.”

Goertz and Pulley both agreed more processors are needed in Wyoming. “Instead, we just keep losing processors,” Pulley said. “This is one of the challenges a producer has to face if he is direct marketing meat. In our situation, we have no problem raising hogs, but professional processing is a real problem.”

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2 thoughts on ““Challenges” of Direct-Marketing Meat

  1. Undervalued and unappreciated!

    In our experience many direct marketers want their cake and eat it too. They don’t seem to understand basic anatomy of their own animal, nor do they understand the process of making that animal in retail ready meats. They are the experts; we are just a necessary evil.

    Not all, but a vast majority in our experience of the years.

    Advice to Mr. Pulley & Ms. Goertz? Build yourself a processing facility and see just how “easy” it is.

    Ms. Processor Du Jour

  2. Wow! As a farmer who raises beef in Iowa, I never realized how fortunate I am to have some many nearby choices for meat processors. There are at least 3 lockers within 30 miles of our farm, and the one we use most is only 5 miles away. We don’t do a lot of direct marketing, and we don’t do it actively, but do sell quite a few beefs to neighbors and family. We love the job that our locker does, and they are always willing to accommodate our requests and help us out if we have an emergency. That being said, we are also understanding of the small locker business and that things must be scheduled in advance and attention must be paid to hunting seasons. I had no idea that other areas of the country were so limited in their choices!!

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