Final Report for FW01-036
Beneficial Farm, a diverse small farm that operates a 60-family vegetable cooperative 20 miles southeast of Santa Fe, worked with fellow egg producers to try to develop a cooperative based on commonly shared values, production methods and marketing strategies.
The project team concluded that there was not enough information available to render a definitive answer about what conditions must be present to support a legal, incorporated cooperative for small-scale egg producers.
What does work is informal resource sharing, which allows for freedom and flexibility for producers and can carry a fledgling "association" for a long time on its development path. Institutionalizing such associations into a cooperatie requires a firm foundation beyond the support of grant money.
Beneficial Farm proposed and carried out the Regional Poultry Producers Improvement Project to address obstacles to local farmers and ranchers (New Mexico and Colorado) who wish to include poultry in the mix of their diverse operations.
Among the obstacles that the project sought to overcome were:
1. Consumer preferences and awareness of poultry production issues that impact the establishment of production standards for a regional label.
2. Dealing with producer issues that are involved in developing a label.
3. Developing the quality of birds on a local level that are capable of producing eggs that will meet the standards consumers seek.
1. Conduct market research with consumer to develop appropriate production standards and to test the vialiabilty of joint marketing and labeling of poultry products.
2. Develop joint marketing and labeling of poultry products.
3. Research and develop a locally adapted strain of laying hen as the foundation stock for an expanding egg, chick and pullet operation.
The project team conducted surveys, in-store demonstrations, point-of-sale advertising and test to gather qualitative and quantitative dat to answer the following questions:
What information is important to consumers regarding the production and management process.
What "minimum" production standards need to be adhered to? What standards would be seen by consumers as optimal? How do we reconcile the differences.
Is a regional Label feasible? Appropriate?
What does a label say to consumers? About consumers?
How important is organic certification? Does certified add value? If so, how much?
To develop a plan for joint marketing and labeling of poultry products, the cooperators worked together to answer these questions:
How do we jointly handle product? Money?
How are the products packaged, distributed, delivered and marketed and by whom?
Will a producer produce for another producer's label?
Is a producer cooperative feasible or desirable?
The project team will continue with current research and development of a locally adapted strain of Barred Plymouth Rock laying hen as foundation stock for egg, chick and pullet operations. It will continue with feed and hatching trials to answer the following questions:
What locally available, economically viable feed rations are suitable to the strain and egg quality standards demanded by the market?
What percent level of hatchability can be achieved under the best operations conditions that can be created?
How will this strain perform in other locations?
This study led to some baseline conclusions about the desirability and feasiblity of promoting locally produced, high quality poultry products from locally bred, high quality stock:
Accessing the market: There is a substantial and growing market for fresh, high quality, barnyard- or field-raised eggs that can command a premium prices in local retail stores. The ability to provide a year-round supply is critical as is the presentation of the product in a high quality, professional package. Pooling of a product under a common label helps producers meet year-round commitment. Within a group, some producers may face difficulties at the same time as others are not, thus assuring supply through decentralized production.
Access to supplies: Groups of producers, whether informal associations or legal cooperatives, can improve their access to key supplies, like egg cartons, because they are better able to order in bulk. Producer groups can also access feed ingredients more reliably and conveniently. And one producer may be able to receive, producer or store a key ingredient, sharing with others to help cut costs.
Localizing feed: Producer groups can often find interesting local feed options not always accessible to single producers.
Replacement stock and breed adaptability: Because purchasing day old chicks from out-of-state facilities is becoming more difficult and costly owning to airline rules, establishing local hatcheries can minimize those difficulties while, at the same time, developing breeds acclimated to local conditions.
Education and Outreach
The projects most effective outreach was through an article in the Weston Price Foundation newsletter that emphasized the group's efforts to get away from soy and corn as principal feeds four poultry. The article can be accessed at www.westonaprice.org/farming/realeggs.html.
Education and Outreach Outcomes
The project contributed to local agriculture by working cooperatively and achieving buy-in from local retailers that local, high quality products are important to, and desired by, the consuming public. In the process, the small producers find themselves in the opening stage of a process that is crucial to them as the larger industrial organic food system continues to expand and dominate the organic landscape.
Poultry operations could benefit from the development of local sources of protein feed. Properly processed animal byproducts from slaughter operations and manageable on-farm production processed need to be investigated. Chickens need animal protein in their diets, and because bugs are scarce in cold weather, protein must be added to chicken feed during at least a portion of the year.
In addition, the project coordinator says, there is a need to differentiate foods produced on a small scale from those produced by the larger operations in the organic movement.