Producer-Owned Cooperative to Process and Market Sustainably Produced Pork
1. Help small and medium-sized farmers establish a co-op to process and market sustainably produced pork.
2. Investigate and promulgate alternatives to large-scale confinement production of hogs that are both economically viable and environmentally friendly.
3. Increase market options for consumers, allowing them access to pork products that are healthy, flavorful, and produced with minimal negative impact on the environment.
Markets for sustainably produced meat products are essential to integrated crop and livestock farming systems. Many consumers are interested in meat products raised in ways that they perceive will enhance their personal health, animal welfare and the natural environment, but are usually unable to easily obtain products meeting these criteria. The rapidly growing consumer interest in leanness, absence of synthetic hormones, and conservation of natural resources creates new opportunities to provide premium prices to reward innovative environmental stewardship and to enhance economic opportunities in farming and rural communities.
Many farmers are producing pork that would appeal to consumers with these interests. However, current market structures do not favor these products or reward farmers with the premium prices that the marketplace has great potential to provide. On the contrary, moderate-sized, diversified farms are often penalized with lower prices when modest quantities of a commodity are sold, because most slaughtering, processing and marketing businesses offer premiums for a large quantity sold at one time.
This project was originally undertaken in 1998 as a project of the Iowa Farmers Union, together with Practical Farmers of Iowa and the Center for Rural Affairs. In the initial stages of the project a steering committee of farmers was formed, potential producer members were surveyed, and a survey and review of the available literature in pork production and marketing was undertaken.
However, due to insufficient staff resources on the part of the Iowa Farmers Union, work on the project lagged from start-up in fall of 1998 to early 1999, when work on the project temporarily ceased. Since then, Iowa Farmers Union has taken measures to rectify its personnel deficiencies, and in February of 2000 hired as full-time executive director Dennis Smith who, among his other responsibilities, has been charged with coordinating the Sustainable Pork Co-op project and bringing it to a successful and timely conclusion.
Beginning in March 2000, the new coordinator has reviewed all project materials and activities to date, consulted with the project’s original team members from the Center for Rural Affairs and Practical Farmers of Iowa, and reconstituted the project’s steering committee. As of the date of this report the reconstituted steering committee has met once to review the project, discuss goals, and establish a new timeline for the completion of work. The steering committee has assigned work for the coordinator, and has agreed to meet again in early May.