My farm is a small grain and livestock family operation. I rent 190 acres of cropland growing wheat, soybeans, and grain sorghum. I also have a small farrow to finish hog operation, currently fifteen sows, from which I direct market as much pork as I can find a market for.
The sustainable practices I have on my farm include a terrace and waterway system to preserve the soil. The terraces have been in place for about thirty years. In addition, grass buffer strips surround a small creek which runs through our farm protecting it from any fertilizer or chemicals which may run off adjacent cropland. The grass has been in place for many decades. My crops are grown in a wheat, grain sorghum, and soybean rotation to limit the amount of herbicide I need to apply. I began this practice nine years ago. Manure from my hogs is applied to cropland to make use of its fertilizer value and enhance the organic matter content of the soil. I have also been involved with direct marketing pork from my farm for several years.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The goal of my project was to establish an on farm pork processing facility to enable me to process retail pork cuts and direct market the pork to individual families, small specialty grocery stores, and restaurants adding value to the hogs I produce on my farm.
My project began with obtaining necessary permits for zoning, a permit from Kansas Department of Health and Environment for proper disposal of waste produced by the facility, and discussion with Kansas Department of Meat and Poultry Inspection on their requirements for processing pork. Since I have a private well, it was important to test my water for bacteria to assure myself of a clean water supply before I proceeded. The process of obtaining the necessary permits is time consuming so it is important that this if first and foremost in the beginning stages.
With the necessary permits and water tests in hand construction on the facility could begin. Early on it was determined that the best route to pursue the least expensive would be to have slaughter, curing and cooking of pork products done by a small, local processing facility and just focus on cutting, grinding and packaging pork. The size of the facility would have to be substantially larger and management more complex if slaughter and ready to eat cooked products were handled. Separation distances between storage of cooked product and raw product would have required additional rooms. Renovation of two existing buildings began. New concrete was poured for the floors, walls were torn out, and an enclosed hallway was constructed linking the two buildings. Both buildings were insulated, some minor repairs made to the roof, and they were painted. A heating and air conditioning system was installed. Regulations stipulate that a separate meat processing room with no customer access and the capability to be fully enclosed to facilitate wash down be constructed. Walls in this room were to be lined with fiberglass reinforced panel to promote cleanliness and lighting had to be shatterproof or enclosed in globes. Four inch concrete coving at the wall to floor junction and a central drain to facilitate cleanup had to be installed. A four foot addition was added to this building in order to meet requirements for an inedible room used for temporary storage of inedible carcass remnants. A door with access to the outside had to be installed on the end of the inedible room to facilitate removal of waste and to comply with OHSA regulations requiring a second outside exit to the facility. Equipment in the meat processing room consists of a meat saw, processing table, meat grinder, three compartment sink for cleanup and disinfection, and a foot actuated hand wash sink as a requirement. The building next to the meat processing room provides space for cold storage, a countertop for customer sales, restroom, and inspector’s office as required. The wall and ceiling surfaces in these rooms could be drywall and still meet requirements.
My marketing efforts consist primarily of sales at a local farmers market, two conventional grocery store, a small producer owned store located on his farm, a health conscious food coop, home delivery and on farm sales. Attempts have been made to sell pork to local restaurants, and institutions such as a senior center but these tend to be very focused on cost and sales to them would have been unprofitable. A valuable marketing tool was to use the farmers market and food coop as an avenue to gain direct access to customers, speak with them about the benefit of your product and production practices, and hence compile a customer mailing list. The mailing list was used to contact customers throughout the farmers market off season and orders of ten pounds or more were home delivered.
Many people and agencies assisted me with my project. Kansas Department of Meat and Poultry Inspection assisted with the requirements for facility construction. Kansas Department of Commerce and Housing provided advice on how to market my product. For assistance with developing a small business, the small business administration was a good resource to use which gave me valuable insight and contacts with other people who were developing products. My local direct marketing group, the Land to Hand Alliance, and our local farmer’s market association provided more contacts with like minded individuals who shared marketing ideas and strategies. My county extension agent provided me with information on the proper regulatory people to contact and also assisted me with information on direct marketing.
From my pork sales I realized a greater return on my hogs than I could have received by selling them to the packer. Acquiring enough sales volume is the primary challenge that I continue to address. I have received the best return on my pork sales if I price about ten per cent above regularly advertised grocery store prices. Such a price doesn’t significantly cut into your sales volume but yet allows for a better return. One needs to be aware of the potential accumulation of certain types of pork cuts. In my case, hams had a tendency to accumulate. Ham steaks, however, sold well. Bacon and pork chops are the easiest to sell so prices are kept relatively higher on these cuts allowing for some flexibility in pricing other cuts at a lower price than is desired. Overall, the value of pork products sold from one hog averaged around $360. As expected, marketing pork products instead of hogs has significantly improved my return on each hog.
My project exposed me to the process involved in establishing a pork processing facility. I learned a lot about the necessary permits, tests, specifications for construction, and the best order in which to proceed to accomplish my goal. There are many potential obstacles which can arise along the way so one needs to be patient and continue to ask questions to make steady progress. If I were to make one recommendation to other producers, it would be to have patience and to be attentive to details.
My method of outreach is construction of a fact sheet for distribution to sustainable agriculture groups and extension. I plan to further communicate my project results at meetings of our local direct marketing group.
In conclusion, I would comment that the SARE program is an excellent resource to use for farmers who want to access information about new and alternative ways to produce, manage, and market the commodities we raise on our farms.