Launching a Maryland small farms poultry processing and marketing group

Final Report for ONE12-167

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2012: $14,760.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Ginger Myers
University of Maryland Extension
Expand All

Project Information

Summary:

A team of farmers- Tom Reynolds, Tom Albright, and Steve Weber- with assistance from University of Maryland Extension Marketing Specialist, Ginger Myers, form a poultry processing and marketing group that provides its poultry-producing members with a safe, sanitary, environmentally sound, legal and convenient means of processing. The group is making group purchases of chicks, marketing materials, and some feed stocks. In addition to individual farm sales, members are pursuing aggregating their birds to supply larger volume sales such as to schools, hospital, and buying clubs.

The project ‘s primary goal is to provide processing and marketing services to a least 10-12 approved and licensed, sustainable poultry producing farms in Maryland during the first full year of operation and expanding to 15 farms by a second year.

As a result of this project there are now 18 broiler producers listed in the Maryland Niches Meats and Poultry Directory, a buyers’ guide for locally produced chicken and eggs. Twelve of these producers are paid members and regular participants in the Central Maryland Poultry Processors Group. Members could either purchase with the group or order from another certified hatchery. The project group purchased 4.500 chicks and processed 5,500 finished birds.

Most producers are still marketing all their own birds, but three are planning to aggregate marketing to three CSAs in 2013. The group leaders have received calls wanting information on the next meeting of the group, ordering schedules for chicks starting in May 2013, and inquiries about the educational programming the group might offer during the 2013 growing season.

Testament to primary goals of this project being met for its initial participants was reflected in an article that appeared in the winter edition of the Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit magazine. Bobbi-Jo Fout, a group member, was featured in the Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit News as a new and upcoming woman farmer in Maryland. She stated in the article “I became part of the Central Maryland Poultry Producers Group and now have access to the facilities and other resources I need to process our chickens in line with the state regulations in a more affordable manner.

Introduction:

There is a tremendous demand in Maryland for poultry produced under sustainable and environmentally appropriate management systems such as free-range and small flock production. Prior to 2010, Maryland’s poultry producers could process birds on the farm, but only sell them at the farm- no retail sales off the farm. In 2010, the Maryland Department of Agriculture and Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene implemented a training course for on-farm processing of poultry that allowed for off farm sales following completion of a training course, obtaining a potable farm waters test, writing a HACCAP Plan, purchasing equipment, licensing, and an annual on-farm inspection. These farms may only sell their on-farm processed birds in Maryland. These regulations do not permit inter-state sales.

While this process does allow for retail sale of on-farm processed poultry now, it requires (1) every farm to purchase its own set of processing equipment at the cost of $3,500-$5,000 (2) requires each farmer to develop a composting or treatment system for processing wastes, (3) provides for limited traceability of product since the farmers approved labels carries a single license number and no batch number , (4) and because of the labor required, results in smaller batch processing that does not facilitate volume sales to institutions or buying clubs.

If licensed producers could take their birds to one approved processing facility for processing, labeling, and chilling and in the process become of a larger marketing group with the option to sell excess birds through aggregation to volume purchasers, it would:

1. Improve their profitability by reducing their purchased equipment cost and be more labor efficient, netting them an increase in their farm income,
2. Would provide for better management of processing waste and waste water by confining it to one location that is already equipped to handle this material.
3. Improve the quality of life for farmers and their community by providing an economically feasible supply of sustainable grown, processed, and marketed poultry in the Baltimore-Washington corridor,

Project Objectives:
Plan executed

April
– Meeting with Weber, Albright, and Reynolds at Reynolds to review grant tasks and to plan first membership event. Meeting at the Baltimore County Extension Office- Albright, Myers, Baldwin, Weber and State Vet-Michael Radebaugh to work out language about members renting facility- not custom processing. Albright becomes licensed poultry transporter. Weber coordinates work on membership form, HACCP plans, SOP for Reynolds plant.

First membership meeting at Tom Reynolds- tour of processing plant, explanation of the group forming- 37 attendees, 3 feed companies, two farm-oriented papers give news coverage.

May
– Central Maryland Poultry Producers Group webpages launched – www.cmdppg.com

Logo and marketing materials developed, website content, mission, chick ordering form, processing info, membership form, contact information.

5-23-1012- First group processing run- 4 Producers and 400 birds
5-29-2012- First group purchase of chicks- 500

June
– First group purchase of chicks (chicks arrive second Tuesday of the month and are processed every 7 weeks). Develop potential volume purchaser’s lists.

Twilight Meeting at Tom Albrights- topic- Poultry Production and Whole Farm Management . 68 attended ( about 1/3 from April meeting all others new). Co-sponsored with Future Harvest CASA. Lite meal, tour of packaging facility, field visit to portable broiler pens. Poultry nutritionist from Pennfield feed spoke about breeds and feeds for layers and meat birds. Distribution of membership material
July- Finalize and produce marketing materials. Order turkey pults for members who produce birds for the holidays. Group chick order 800 chicks. First alert sent out through webpage that processing date would be moved back a week to account for heat slowing the growth of birds. Tom Reynolds represents the group at the Governor’s Buy Local Picnic and serves chickens dishes from member birds. 800 birds processed from 5 producers.

Twilight Producers meeting at the Western Maryland Research and Education Center to see housing designs and watering systems. Discussion on flock and farm bio-security programs

August
– Group chick order 1200 chicks. 850 birds processed from 6 producers. Small flock twilight meeting at Western Maryland Research and Education Center, topics pastured poultry and security issues.
September- Met with representatives from Baltimore area restaurants and catering services to develop product profile for their needs. Group chick order 1600 chicks.

October- Group Chick order 400 chicks. Processed 1500 birds.
November- Member meeting and Project Progress report. Determine any changes to plans or program at this point in the project. Processed 2000 birds.

December-2012-March 2013- OUTREACH ACTIVITIES

Tom Albright, representing the group, gave presentations about the projects and recruited members at:

Future Harvest-Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture- 400 attendees
Maryland Buyer-Grower Meeting sponsored by the Maryland Department of Agriculture- Booth to meet potential buyers and growers- 350 Attendees
Marketing Meats in Maryland Workshop- Extension workshop held in Baltimore County- 63 attendees.

Lessons learned

One goal the project had to abandon was trying to initiate legislative changes to Maryland’s On-Farm Poultry Processing Regulations to allow Reynolds to process the birds without the owners being participating in the processing. The current legislation requires producers to participate in the processing of their own birds. Each farmer coming into the processing line actually slows processing time and increase expenses for Reynolds. However, if producers are not involved in processing as they are now by “renting the facility and equipment”, then the plant would have to file to become a USDA inspected facility. The Reynolds family does not want to take that route.

Marketing the product still is a major challenge. Producers are hesitant to give up their farm identity on their birds and to sell at lower than direct market prices in order to attract additional wholesale accounts. The three largest producers in the group (growing between 600-1000 birds annually) are willing to look at aggregating processed birds for the purpose of approaching a large custom catering company and supplying a portion of their “local” poultry product demand.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Thomas Albright
  • Tom Reynolds
  • Steve Weber

Research

Materials and methods:

This project proposed to develop a membership structure, plan of operation, provide group purchasing and marketing opportunities to members, and provide at least three producers training sessions.

1. All project partners will be involved in designing the membership criteria, membership forms, fee schedule, processing schedule, and producer contact list for recruitment. Develop project business plan and description of administrative duties. Group membership fee will be designated to cover administrative costs for record keeping, communication expenses, and accounting for group sales or purchases of supplies or chicks.

2. Host informational and recruiting meeting for group members. Sponsored by grant and hosted at Tom Reynolds’ operation.

3. Establish processing schedule and number of birds/run. The plant can process chickens and turkeys, whole or cut. Determine volume of birds available for institutional sales. Design institutional sales materials and potential customer list.

4. Design and produce marketing materials for participating members. Promote effort through newsletters, press releases, farm field days, and meetings.

5. In the course of one year- conduct three training sessions for member producers-

a. Best management and Whole Farm methods for sustainable poultry production.
b. Flock bio-security and Maryland’s regulatory review
c. Safe Food handling Practices and Marketing

6. From the start of the program and through the first year, data was collected on the number of birds processed, growth or sales, and evaluate cost savings to members in terms of mileage, labor, and equipment. This material will be used in outreach efforts to educate others about project and to recruit other poultry producers to the group

Research results and discussion:

All project partners were involved in designing the membership criteria, membership forms, fee schedule, processing schedule, and producer contact list for recruitment. Develop project business plan and description of administrative duties. We had not anticipated the need for a website to make distribution of the information more manageable, but it did provide a “parking space” for all the info about joining the group and placing orders. It is a good addition to the outputs for the continuation of this project after the grant period.

Also, while each licensed farmer had a HACCP for their farm, the Maryland Department of Agriculture(MDA) required a new HACCP for the birds individual producers delivered and processed at Reynolds. It was a challenge to write a plant plan, but it was done and is part of each member’s packet now for MDA approval. The time to research and write the plan was an additional cost.

Throughout the summer a schedule was established for ordering chicks. The intent was to have the processing day always fall on the third Tuesday of the month. Because of the extreme heat of the summer and different skill levels in growing out birds, the farmers had to start moving the processing dates back by one to two weeks to make sure a majority of the birds were at a profitable processing weight. This did cause some angst for the smallest producers- had to hold their birds longer than they had planned. This would not have been such a major problem if the group were large enough to process more than once a month. Variations in the processing schedule need to be considered for the next full growing season.

Workshops and seminars were well attended. They attract good audience, but mining memberships from the group has been slower than anticipated. However, three feed companies have been covering the cost of the meals at the event and want to help provide speakers and other educational materials. They see this group a future poultry feed buyers. Promote efforts through newsletters, press releases, farm field days, and meetings have generated continued interest in the project.

Processing ends with Thanksgiving turkeys at the Reynolds plant and growers will not be ordering chicks again until March. During this break, Albright spoke about the project at winter conferences and meetings such as the Future Harvest-CASA annual conference, the Maryland Buyer-Grower Meeting and the Marketing Farm-Raised Meats in Maryland Workshop. There was a display booth promoting the project at these events.

The farmers and the University of Maryland Marketing Specialist represented the group at Maryland’s Annual Buyer-Grower meeting in late January. This provided an opportunity to make more marketing contacts with distributors and restaurants looking to source locally grown products.

The work in this project has been very participatory between the project farmers and Extension. They developed a greater sense of ownership of the project and commitment to its success as they viewed their leadership as critical to its design and financial success.
This marketing group can also serve as a model for aggregating product and connecting to volume sales. Similar marketing efforts are needed in fruits and vegetables in the area as well to service the growing demand for locally grown food in the Baltimore-Washington Corridor.

While not originally planned for, the partners have developed and post a website for the group which they will be maintained past this grant funding.

Research conclusions:

Summary of accomplishments:

1. Three educational seminars covering- Poultry processing, pasture-raised production and nutrition, bio-security ,watering and housing systems, and direct marketing of farm-raised meats.

2. Total chicks ordered by the group- 4,500.

3. Total birds group process- 5,500 (some producers chose to source chicks other than with the group)

4. Paid group membership- 10 Contacts sign-up for mailing information and email alerts- 32

5. News article and e-alerts- 6

6. Major conferences and meetings where farmer gave presentations about the group and the project- 3

The three leader farmers participating in the grant plan to continue with a similar format of recruitment meeting , educational seminars throughout the year and expanding the membership base and sales for the group.

Other Outputs included:

Central Maryland Poultry Producers Group webpages launched – www.cmdppg.com
Membership Forms, HACCP Plans, and a member packet
Several Press Release and e-Alerts sent promoting the group and its activities.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

MD Niche Meats directory.
Information about the group is still being distributed in Extension newsletters and marketing presentations.
Word-of-mouth- promotion still occurring within farming community.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Project’s Primary Goal- Improve farm profitability:

A. Savings from group purchasing of chicks exceeded $1.10 on each chick plus death loses were less than 25 among growers.

B. None of the paid members have any need or desire to invest in on-farm processing equipment.

C. Three of the 10 paid group members reported they were able to increase their sales of process birds by at least 50% due to the quality of their product and the superior finished packaging that can be done at the Reynolds facility.

Farmer Adoption

Membership at the end of November was 8 farms with 3-4 more farmers interested in joining when processing begins again next spring. Two farmers have started a joint marketing effort direct to customers. Total paid membership at the end of the project was ten farm producing in excess of 5,000 broilers annually.

As a result of this project there are now 18 broiler producers listed in the Maryland Niches Meats and Poultry Directory, a buyers’ guide for locally produced chicken and eggs. Twelve of these producers are paid members and regular participants in the Central Maryland Poultry Processors Group.

Most producers are still marketing all their own birds, but three are planning to aggregate birds for marketing to CSAs in 2013. The group leaders have received calls wanting information on the next meeting of the group, ordering schedules for chicks starting in May 2013, and inquiries about the educational programming the group might offer during the 2013 growing season.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

While Maryland producers have access to a plant in Central Maryland, producers on the lower eastern shore, western Maryland, and Delaware are still in need of local processing options. Could a portable poultry processing unit be feasible and be permitted to cross state line?

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.