The Local Meat Processing Landscape

As you may have read in the paper a few weeks ago, Blood Farms just burned down. Why is this a big deal? They were one of only three slaughterhouses in Massachusetts who service the nearly 100 livestock producers in the area. All of these farmers rely on this limited number of slaughterhouses to process their animals, so the loss of just one facility puts the local meat industry in a tight situation.

Despite the lack of USDA-licensed processing facilities, demand for local meat continues to soar; as some have commented, “local is the new organic.” More and more consumers are thinking about what they eat and where their food comes from. Especially in the depths of winter, when meat is one of the easier ways to eat local, Massachusetts’s meat producers are facing big challenges due to the bottleneck of processing.

New England’s limited slaughter and processing infrastructure. Click on the image for a full map and directory. Source: FSIS.

To get a sense of this landscape, Jenny put together a quick look at New England’s meat slaughter and processing facilities. For the consumer these constraints result in a lack of differentiated products: farmers may have different husbandry practices, but that’s harder to see when all the meat is butchered and packaged in the same facility.  Further, these processing facilities offer a limited number of recipes for things like sausages. As a result, most of the product emerging from the facilities is indistinguishable from its competitors, limiting the possibility of differentiation at the market.While some areas in New England and New York are well-served, such as the Champlain Valley, the map confirms the lack of options available to processors in Massachusetts. There is now only one in-state processor taking on clients, and very few options accessible within 2-3 hours’ drive out of state lines. This dearth means that competition is intense for processing slots: farmers are scheduling up to 18 months in advance. Our Massachusetts-based clients divide their processing among a number of different facilities in Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York. Farmers drive their animals as much as 100 miles, causing stress on the animals and on a farms’ bottom line. Two round trips to the slaughterhouse to deliver the animals and then pick up the processed meats can cost upwards of $500 in fuel and labor alone.

Recognizing this need, a number of regional organizations are putting out resources and events addressing these limitations. CISA recently released a study on meat processing in Western Massachusetts and surrounding areas. The report substantiates the severe limitation of accessible facilities that our clients have reported, as well as a dearth of TA and quality of services. Their recommendations for improving the landscape for producers and processors include improving producer education, increasing coordination among local producers and reducing costs devoted to transportation. We agree, and would add supporting the development of more processing facilities in underserved areas. The rest of their resources, including past reports, are also available.

CISA also offers a feasibility template for opening a meat processing facility. The template, which analyses a potential business plan and financial projections, is an eye-opening resource for anyone interested in getting a sense of what’s required to enter the field, whether you are exploring opening a facility of your own or just an interested consumer.

If you’re interested in learning more about these issues, register for the upcoming New England Meat Conference. A two-day summit for producers, processors, and consumers, the conference looks to offer a number of educational and networking events covering sustainable meat production across New England.

As interest for locally-produced, sustainable and humane meat ratchets up, it’s imperative that our producers have the support and facilities they need to fulfill demand, without spending unsustainable amounts of time and money to do so. We’re looking forward to continuing this conversation; in the meantime, find your local farmerand find out how they’re bringing their meat to market.

Are you interested in developing meat processing facilities, or have observations to share about local meat? Let us know what you’re thinking @juliashanks or drop us a line.

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