Outreach, training, and education for small-scale poultry producers using MPPUs in Massachusetts
Demand for local, sustainably produced poultry is increasing. Access to affordable, legally-sanctioned poultry processing is enabling new and existing producers to profitably diversify their farm enterprises and provide healthful, safe products to consumers. Producers are poised to meet this demand but need training to navigate the regulatory and food safety requirements to use MPPUs for on-farm slaughter and processing.
MPPUs offer a cost-effective means to process poultry on-farm under USDA producer-processor exemptions. State and local permitting requires stringent producer training in safe food handling, sanitation operating procedures; wastewater and solid waste management processing; humane slaughter; flock health and disease management; equipment operations, maintenance, and repair; and marketing. Working with state regulators, we are defining content and developing instructional guides and a training certification process covering regulations, operations, and replication to be shared throughout the Northeast. We have convened regional producer groups in Massachusetts and provided multiple workshops emphasizing practical skills training to 150+ producers as part of the permitting eligibility process. Individual technical assistance and consultation is also provided to dozens of producers looking to enter poultry production and processing for direct markets.
Producer information is disseminated by a regional Poultry Producers Listserv and an
informational website housing training materials. Participants are developing plans to construct and/or share use of additional MPPUs and many producers are now building on-farm processing facilities and following the regulatory approval and licensing process we helped foster. Business plans for small-scale poultry production and shared use of a MPPU have been developed to assess profitability at different levels of production, attracting new producers to strengthen, expand, or diversify their operations.
Of the 125 small-scale poultry producers who initially enroll in this project, 75 will complete regulatory and practical skills training and implement new production, processing, and food safety practices on their farms; at least 45 will increase market access, profits, and complete the legal requirements to process poultry using a licensed Mobile Poultry Processing Unit (MPPU) within two years.
Over 150 producers have attended trainings related to poultry processing and regulatory requirements. Due to “pilot project” limitations (which as of May 2011 went from pilot to “routine status” for the first time) from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and a steep state slaughter licensing fee, to date, at least 9 producers have secured a state slaughter license from MDPH. More are in the process of securing their license for 2012.
At a January 20, 2011 workshop, 42 current and potential poultry producers completed the regulatory and licensing training needed to apply to operate an MPPU. This included detailed overviews of the relevant licensing and regulatory approval processes, proper food safety and waste disposal procedures, and enterprise budgets and a processing cost-calculator toolkit. Producers moved forward to complete their applications for a state slaughter license were invited to participate in a hands-on processing skills training and a practical MPPU operations training on May 21st , 2011. Fifteen farmers attended the practical training. In all, seven farms received local board of health and state Department of Public Health approval to use the MPPU to process poultry for sale in 2011, including both first-time licensees and renewals. In May of 2011, the Department of Public Health finally ended “pilot project” status and granted legal status to licensed on-farm processing using the MPPU or approved stationary facilities. The lateness of this decision impeded new licensees’ ability to plan for MPPU use in 2011; however, a number of farmers have expressed serious interest in use of the unit during the 2012 season, and were instructed to pursue individual farm licensure and approval by following guidance of the online “Handbook for Small-Scale Poultry Producer Processors” available on the New Entry website. With “pilot project” status lifted, we anticipate an influx of new poultry producer-processors in 2012. This has been borne out so far by the serious interest many producers have registered in using the MPPU or securing approval for their own on-farm facilities in 2012.
Also in 2011, a second MPPU went into operation, with funding from the USDA Rural Development, Rural Business Enterprise Grant program and numerous private donors to the New Entry project. The new unit is fully enclosed and features significant equipment upgrades. The original open-air unit operated in Western Massachusetts (now dubbed the “Pioneer Valley MPPU”, was managed by the New England Small Farm Institute, and the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project managed the new enclosed unit in Eastern Massachusetts. In all, six farm businesses operated the mobile units on their farm (four in Western and two in Eastern Massachusetts) for 20 total processing dates (12 in Western and 8 in Eastern Mass.). With 2,021 birds processed on the open-air unit and 2,450 on the enclosed unit, these farm business combined to process 4,411 chickens and 60 turkeys for sale at an estimated conservative value of at least $95,420 (based on an average dressed weight of 4lb/bird and a sales price of $5/lb—some producers sold birds for as high as $5.75-$6.75/lb; and for turkeys, an average dressed weight of 20 lb at $6/lb). Producers also used the unit to process laying hens and many producers sold edible giblets (necks, livers, hearts, gizzards, feet, heads) to add value to the product. Additionally, the enclosed unit was used to host a Community Poultry Processing Day on November 19 in Grafton, Massachusetts, the first event of its kind in the state; 15 producers from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire brought approximately 70 chickens and 60 turkeys to be processed for home consumption. Additional producers who sought and received state licensing for on-farm stationary facilities as a result of our training programs also added additional processing dates and resulted in financial gain for the industry. Unfortunately, specific data for these farms (number of processing dates, birds processed and sold, and financial impact) is unknown, but it is estimated that at least 10 new farmers applied for an secured approvals for on-farm poultry slaughter in fixed facilities during 2011.
The producers who operated the MPPU in 2011 gained invaluable education beyond the mandatory training and over the course of the season adjusted their production and processing practices in response to the regulatory, financial, and practical challenges that they encountered. With continual inspection present by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health inspectors for the two new users, additional training and feedback to users of the MPPU was provided during each use. Inspector reports and feedback to project organizers regarding field conditions and lessons learned during 2011 will continue to be incorporated into future training modules.
All of these producers completed the state, local, and federal legal requirements needed to operate the MPPU and sell the processed birds. Having learned how to address the legal requirements, the producers will do so more easily in the upcoming season and can share their knowledge with other producers. Two of the returning producers who participated in the pilot program offered mentoring and coaching to the other users in 2011 and we expect that will continue into 2012.
One component of this project that was completed in 2011 was the MPPU Economic Calculator, an online tool that enables farmers to enter costs of production and processing into an online spreadsheet which then calculates their cost per bird to raise and process on their farms. This tool allows producers to better determine a price per lb, to fully analyze the regulatory and processing costs into their poultry enterprise plans, and to be aware of the cost-benefit of various processing alternatives. The tool went online in early 2011, has been linked to by several other poultry resource pages, and has attracted 2,283 web visits since going live.
Progress continues on both a Poultry Processing “Replication Guide” that will outline options for either constructing a MPPU or an on-farm fixed facility and a training DVD that will aid producers in reviewing food safety and MPPU operations information as part of a continuing education program. The Replication Guide will be formatted as a decision making tool to help guide producers toward an option that works for them – either shared use of a cooperative MPPU, single-owner MPPU and the various design options; and on-farm fixed facility design and costs. Case studies of various existing facilities will be highlighted. The training DVD will illustrate appropriate MPPU use, sanitation practices, and humane poultry processing techniques. Video footage was taped on May 14th and again on June 17th, 2010. A rough cut video was compiled and the sections demonstrating operation of the MPPU have been completed, with final completion expected early in 2012. The Replication Guide draft is complete, and will be formatted into a final layout by February 2012.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Many current and potential poultry producers, local poultry customers, and state and local regulators learned of the MPPU through outreach materials, emails to the MPPU listserv, the New Entry website, donor events, media stories, and numerous public presentations and farmer conference workshops. The MPPU listserv contains over 600 contacts (all voluntarily included). Over $95,000 in new revenues were generated during 2011 from the two mainland MPPU units alone. Additional revenues were certainly realized with at least 10 newly licensed on-farm stationary facilities that were approved and licensed in 2011 and via the producers accessing Island Grown/Martha’s Vineyard Mobile Processing Trailer. Exact figures for income, birds processed, and number of farms is unknown at this time. The mainland MPPU model requires that producers each become licensed and that they travel to pick up, rent, and return the unit and provide their own labor. In 2011, the mainland units traveled between 6 farms in Western Mass, Eastern Mass, and the Cape; however, by assigning each unit to a regional base, total travel miles were reduced from 2010, which should help to increase the lifespan of both units.
Multiple outreach and educational sessions on the MPPU were conducted in 2011, including the New Entry Poultry Field School Series, a series of hands-on workshops on poultry production that included three processing workshops using the MPPU in Dracut, Mass., a discussion at the Massachusetts Poultry Enhancement Council Annual Spring Meeting, and at various local food panel presentations involving the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. One user of the MPPU in Eastern Mass hosted over 100 volunteers to assist with their processing events during 5 uses of the unit on their farm, exposing scores of future users, consumers, and chefs to the value of on-farm processing and safe local food production. We have also continued to provide advice and support for the Connecticut Poultry Producers Association as they worked to pass new poultry processing legislation in Connecticut and to expand processing options in the state; as part of this partnership, we hosted a group of eight members of the CPPA for a walk-through of the new enclosed MPPU and a question-and-answer session. The new MPPU was also featured in several media outlets, including Small Farm Quarterly, Country Folks magazine, and National Public Radio’s “Radio Boston” show. The outreach and education events generated public and producer awareness of the lack of slaughter facilities and the importance of supporting scaleable local processing solutions such as the MPPU (important for local town approval of such operations) and we provided lessons learned and guidance to new producer groups looking to replicate this work.
Several lessons were learned in 2011 that will serve as a foundation for future activities. Our MPPU training program is being reworked to be more multi-faceted and organized into several phases in different learning modalities (classroom, hands-on, and online). DPH now requires a certified producer training prior to licensure, and has selected our training program as the standard. We are working on a self-sustaining training curriculum that will be housed in our Mass Department of Agricultural Resources who will oversee the training program in the future. As we enter the first full year after the “pilot program” status has been lifted, we expect to have our first clear sense of the true demand for on-farm processing, and the ability of MPPUs to meet it. The number of interested users continues to grow, and we continue to provide technical assistance and guidance to dozens of producers each month.