- Animals: swine
- Animal Production: housing, parasite control, free-range
- Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, networking, participatory research
- Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, cooperatives, budgets/cost and returns, marketing management, feasibility study, market study
The two objectives of this project are to develop sustainable hog slaughtering arrangements and markets for family farmers in Missouri. To meet these objectives, the research team identified, visited with, and consulted with producers and processors in Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Texas, and Michigan regarding the two objectives. More specifically, factors that contributed to the successful emergence of groups of hogs farmers working cooperatively, adding value to their product, and sourcing slaughter markets were identified and analyzed. The results of these investigations reveal that pork producers across much of the country are faced with issues similar to those for Missouri producers. We found several examples of farmers grouping together in networks to source inputs, gather information, and sell their products. Some of these networks were “new generation” coops, some were limited liability corporations, and other were more traditional coops. We also found common examples of large independent farmers restructuring their operations to concentrate on farrowing and then contracting with their neighbors for finishing. We also found a limited number of examples of independent farmers coordinating a farrowing to marketing system that specialized in a particular product, such as Berkshire Gold, targeted for a specialty market. A common strategy to gain and maintain better access to slaughter markets was pooling several different producers’ hogs in a single potload and providing such potloads on a regular basis. Some members of the Osage group are now participating in this kind of arrangement.
Research conducted on the feasibility of targeting niche markets such as the Hispanic and/or range/chemical-free/organic markets indicated that although the Hispanic market is growing, that their diet in the Midwest area is rapidly becoming similar to Anglo diets which decreases the “niche” character of the market. Regarding the range/chemical-free/organic strategy, relevant data in the U.S. that illustrated the feasibility of production systems that do not rely on the regular use of antibiotics were lacking. Although very interested in this strategy, this lack of scientific support was a major hurdle keeping the group from proceeding on this course. Further research revealed that data from Europe indicated that with appropriate management methods and small-scale processing this approach is feasible. The research team found examples from Europe that incorporated a cooperative organizational form with strict animal welfare components in production combined with small batch processing. The arrangement creates a pork production system with close ties between the producers and the processors and has prompted some members of the Osage group to pursue a “closed, member-owned coop” similar to the New Generation Coops in the Northern Plains.
Another major result of the research was the resolution of the situation regarding decreasing access to slaughter facilities. The team found a rapid demise of small slaughter facilities with USDA certification combined with a trend toward processors increasingly relying on long-term contracts with large operators for predictable supplies of quality hogs. Some packers told us that there would be some plants in the near future that only accepted contracted hogs. Packers also reported that they would kill the group’s hogs but could not guarantee to give them back the same hogs for possible value-added further-processing. In response to this disturbing information, the Osage group has made successful contact with a local small packer that has agreed to do the killing and then return the product to the Osage group for distribution. As a result of information gathered by the research team, the group is now developing its own branded label and has obtained a grant from the State of Missouri to investigate the feasibility of buying or building an existing small processing plant.
This project has yielded important results for family farm-based hog operations in Missouri and other places. A major objective of this research was to investigate the situation related to slaughter access and secure such access for the Osage group. While the Osage group does have access to a small slaughter operation, the small size limits the feasibility of moving a large percentage of the group’s hogs through that facility. The hogs that go to the local slaughter plant bring a premium because they are marketed as local and fresh pork. The Osage group is interested in expanding this kind of value- added market as opposed to only participating in the commodity mass market. This research indicates that even if small to moderate-sized producers can survive economically, they are facing serious problems with continued access to slaughter. Project research indicates that the major slaughter firms are rapidly moving to vertical coordination arrangements such as long term contracts. Some firms we talked with indicated that in the near future some of their plants would accept only accept hogs from producers under some form of contractual arrangement. Other firms indicated that the number of hogs sourced form independents would continue to decline and would only be used when they could not fill their shackle space with their own supplies. This issue of “captive supplies” is very important to both hog and beef producers and is now the focus on federal investigations.
Our research indicated that in some areas of the country groups of producers had made arrangements with large slaughter facilities to kill their animals and then get back a equal amount of product. The producer groups would then further process this pork into special branded cuts and products. But, the facilities would not guarantee that the group would get back their own animals. The group deemed this arrangement as being unacceptable because of their goal to produce and market their own hogs. One idea was to find other small processors in the area and thereby have four or five locations to source as killing operations. Research indicated that this was not possible as many of the smaller operations were dropping their USDA inspection status because of the increasing government regulations related to HAACP. We did find a small-sized operation within an hours drive from Osage County that is willing to slaughter and package hogs (with branded labels if preferred) from the Osage group but at the present time the group would have to do the marketing. The first notable result of the research is the fact that we have found a regional slaughter facility that is willing to work with the group.
The second major result of the research is that the group has decided to develop its own branded label and pursue a chemical-free product. Research in support of this strategy was lacking in the U.S. which constituted a major barrier for the group. The group saw the decision to go chemical-free as enticing but also very problematic because of the threat of herd decimation due to disease outbreaks. After further investigation, successful examples were found in Europe that combined animal welfare-based production with small batch processing into a tightly controlled system with high levels of communication and coordination between producers, processors, and consumers. The discovery of this system was the catalyst needed to congeal a concerted effort on the group’s part to pursue a small-scale chemical-free strategy to service the growing demand for high quality meat products, including opportunities in the organic sector. Furthermore, the group is presently developing its own value-added branded label. Finally, the group is forming a “closed, member-owned coop” and has been awarded a grant by the State of Missouri to investigate the feasibility of buying or building their own packing and/or processing plant.
- Develop sustainable hog markets for family farmers in Missouri. This objective focuses on locally-owned value-added approaches to hog marketing which keeps more of the profits in hands of the producers and the local communities.
Develop sustainable slaughtering arrangements for family farmers in Missouri. This objective focuses on countering the trends towards decreasing slaughter access for smaller producers by developing local or regional arrangements.