Cutting the Red Tape: Processing Pastured Poultry to Meet Market Demands

Final Report for FNC00-322

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2000: $5,125.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $4,087.00
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information

Summary:

PROJECT BACKGROUND
Earth Shine Farm’s focus is on certified organic pastured poultry. Consisting of only ten acres, a sustainable way of farming is imperative to our operation. Our goal and efforts have been towards a model 10 acre farm capable of being economically and sustainably sound. With the high cost of land in our area and other areas of the country, we need enterprises which can prove profitable on small land use for others to model after.

The pastured poultry we raise are ‘day ranged’ with moveable netting and skid housing. The use of a ruminant is used with this system. Layers are housed in greenhouses during the winter, which in turn are used for vegetables during the growing season. Our feed mixtures are ground on farm as well as processing of the birds. Construction of a 3-bin compost system is being built to compost offal to spread on the pasture along with the spraying of water from the processing facility.

PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
A few years ago, knowledge and information about the “how to’s “ for raising pastured poultry was becoming more prevalent in Michigan. But the marketing of the birds for growth in profits became an apparent hindrance. Following the formation of the MI APPPA chapter, our main discussion at meetings was the inability to market our product due to confusion surrounding the processing of our poultry. We realized that “cutting the red tape” for processing poultry was the next step needed. Who, what, where, when and how in relation to legal on farm processings begged for answers. There was a bewildering and confusing array of state and federal regulation which were interpreted differently at every level. Even local inspectors who were supportive of these new on farm processing operations were unclear themselves about the regulations. Marketing efforts were stymied with a lot of ‘closet chicken processors” who were reluctant to expand. There were apprehensive farmers and confused inspectors on one hand and consumers desiring to purchase poultry on the other hand.

Following continued discussion between MI APPPA members, the decision was made to communicate with people on the “other side of the fence”, meaning appropriate inspectors, regulators, and departments.

We were fortunate enough to work with MIFFS (Michigan Integrated Food & Farming Systems), who gave us direction and provided meetings with appropriate people along with lending credibility to us and our cause. Regulation and efforts in other states were researched along with research and data from Michigan pastured poultry producers. With research and facts in hand, our first meeting has held with Dan Wyant, director of Michigan Department of Agriculture, along with another department head to give an overview of pastured poultry and how this niche could be beneficial to Michigan economy. Emphasis was placed on the fact that sanitary measures for on farm processing was important to us for our superior product. Subsequent meetings followed with other government officials involved with Agricultural policy. A series of round table discussions also followed. Participants included MI APPPA members, USDA (United States Dept. of Agriculture, FSIS (Food & Safety & Inspection Services), and MDA (MI Department of Agriculture). We held these in conjunction with other seminars to help ensure participation of other members. The roundtable discussion: (a) initiated a network of working relationships among stakeholders: (b) increased awareness of the inconsistencies in the interpretation and application of regulations: (c) identified viable approaches to increase consistency in regulation interpretation and (d) raised awareness about the production, processing, and marketing issues that affect pastured poultry farmers.

In conjunction with communication through meetings, it was decided that construction of an approved on farm processing facility for a case study would move efforts in a forward direction. Our farm is located in close proximity to MSU (Michigan State University) and government agencies. The model facility developed at Earth Shine Farm was integral to understanding how rules and regulations apply. For instance, representatives of the Department of Environmental Quality involved with the regulation of rinse water disposal had no comprehension of how small a quantity of rinse water our small farm facility would be discharging and how little chance there would be for any environmental impact, until they actually visited the facility and farm. MIFFS continued to open doors for on site communication and visits from MDA, USDA, FSIS, DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality), MASA (MI Agricultural Stewardship Association), MSU extension and OGM (Organic Growers of Michigan). We worked closely with these departments to (a) make sure we were in compliance with applicable regulations (b) produce a safe food product (c) become an on farm profit center and (d) be replicable on other small farms.

Project results include:
Publication through MIFFS “On Farm Processing of Pastured Poultry – Clearing a Path for Legal Sale of Poultry Processed by Michigan Farmers.” This publication has been distributed to Michigan farmers, attendees at sponsored events, out of state interests, Michigan Commission of Agriculture and distribution to all inspectors in the state.

Attendance – increased attendance at seminar workshops and other conferences regarding pastured poultry/regulations. Numerous tours at our on farm processing facility, pasture walks, and open house chicken dinner at our farm.

Heightened Credibility of Pastured Poultry – through non-confrontational meetings/visits at our farm

Department of Environmental Quality – assessment of pollution prevention applications pertaining to processing facility from DEQ retired engineers (RETAP). Suggestions are currently being implemented.

Understanding of applicable rules and regulations – the on farm facility provided tangible applications leading to understanding on both sides

Website – available at www.miffs.org provides additional information and links. Also a power point presentation using our case study for on farm processing has been developed by MIFFS project coordinator. This is used at seminars, etc.

Discussion:
The outcome has provided us continued communication with further outreach channels, such as MSU professors, Ag Innovation Center, Processing companies, packaging companies, etc.

The main goal of providing a path of understanding and clear language booklet of who to contact, when, etc…for other farmers and future farmers regarding on farm poultry processing in Michigan is proving very valuable.

The formation of the Mi APPPA chapter has not grown as expected due to our simultaneous constructing the facility and hosting numerous tours. Other MI APPPA members were also constrained by farm responsibilities. Areas of “regionalism farming efforts” seem to be growing. MI APPPA members might meet informally in conjunction with other conferences and communicate by phone or email when ideas or questions arise.

Time was a constraint due to unexpected illness and the involvement of others. Interpretation of some of the regulations could not be sorted out until they could be applied on farm to our model facility.

OUTREACH
– NPR radio interview with Wendy Nelson on Great Lake Consortium
– Pastured Poultry Processing session at Great Lakes International Grazing Conference in Battle Creek, MI 2002 – speaker and panelist
– Open house dinner to show on farm processing facility and thank those involved 2002
– Interview with Patty Cantrell of Michigan Land Institute
– MIFFS annual meeting – speaker on processing poultry on farm
– 1st Michigan Organic Conference – speaker (on farm poultry processing)
– Michigan American Culinary Federation meeting (Grand Rapids, MI) – presentation of pastured poultry
– Sustainability and Food: Hope for the Earth – guest speaker and presenter of pastured poultry
– Buy Local Project Meeting – representative for MI APPPA held in Ithaca, MI
– Interview for magazine, County Lines 2001
– Numerous tours and visits from people such as: Jeff Moser, Farmers Union USDA Rural Development, Carl McIlvain – President of MI chapter Michigan Farmers Union, Professor Padraig French from Ireland studying pastured poultry, MSU, USDA, DEQ.
– Publication of MIFFS “On Farm Processing of Pastured Poultry”
– Website – inclusion in MIFFS website www.miffs.org

Future goals include:
– continued speaker at conferences and chefs meetings
– tour of facility by FFA school group
– MI APPPA newsletter – to be discussed at next annual meeting
– Continued tours of facility for new inspectors/farmers/educators
– Expanded marketing into stores and development of a regional co-op of small farms to meet the consumer demand.

Continued efforts also include recommendations for recycle, reduce, reuse from DEQ. Along with the 3 bin compost system and spraying of processing water on fields, we will be implementing the use of energy saving lighting, on demand hot water heater, containment curbs around processing building and air chill of the poultry. Incorporating these technologies would be beneficial for sustainable farmers before building. We will be collecting data for this project to share with others.

Research

Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.