Local Meat and Poultry Processing: Business Commitments, Support Networks, and Policy Strategies to Expand the Sector

Photo by Lauren Gwin

By Lauren Gwin, Oregon State University and Arion Thiboumery, Iowa State University

In this article we summarize recent research about what it takes to strengthen the processing link in the local meat and poultry value chain.

To bring locally grown, sustainably raised meat and poultry to market requires access to processing facilities with the skills, inspection status, and other attributes to handle these products safely, legally, and to customer specifications. Farmers and others suggest that limited processing infrastructure is a bottleneck restricting the flow of local meat and poultry to market and call for more facilities to be built. Yet at the same time, existing small processors often lack the steady, consistent business required for profitability, and new ventures too often struggle or fail for lack of enough livestock to process, enough of the time. What is going on?

In a report commissioned by USDA’s Economic Research Service (1, 2), we analyzed this multi-faceted problem and identified fundamental causes, drawing on a cost analysis of local processing at three scales. Through case studies of seven successful local and regional processors, we illustrated how farmers and processors can build more established and predictable business relationships, for mutual benefit. The case studies include strategies and solutions that may be adopted by others. The bottom line is that business commitments between processors and farmers are critical to mutual success: farmers commit to providing consistent throughput of livestock to process, and processors commit to providing consistent, high-quality processing services. This commitment, supported by coordination and communication between processors and their customers as well as along the entire supply chain, is essential to the persistence and expansion of local meats.

Yet market actors – farmers, processors, buyers, and others moving meat along the value chain – are not alone in their efforts to make meat and poultry more sustainable. Nonmarket actors and action are also important. In our report (1, 2), we describe five collaborative efforts around the country involving public and private sector partners who aim to expand opportunities for local meat marketing by providing support and technical assistance to meat processors and their farmer customers. In a subsequent article (3), we provide additional detail about four of them, describing their work as valuable “institutional entrepreneurship.”

We also argue that efforts to change public policy related to local meats processing, if properly targeted, can be effective in achieving the larger goal of expanding opportunities for local meat production, marketing, and consumption. In a third article (4), we describe and suggest a wide variety of productive policy strategies, as well as some approaches that have not been successful. For example, successfully changing federal law is less than half the battle: implementation, which typically happens in the administrative realm, is critical and needs continuous attention. We describe examples where administrative approaches to policy change, while often neglected in favor of legislative action, can be quite useful.

Articles we refer to above:

(1) Gwin, L., A. Thiboumery, and R. Stillman. 2013. “Local Meat and Poultry Processing: The Importance of Business Commitments for Long-Term Viability.” Economic Research Report 150. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture. Available at: http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err-economic-research-report/err150.aspx


(2) Stillman, R., L. Gwin, and A. Thiboumery. 2013. Solving Processing Issues a Key to Successful Local Meat Marketing. Amber Waves. USDA Economic Research Service. Dec. 16. Available at: http://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2013-december/solving-processing-issues-a-key-to-successful-local-meat-marketing.aspx.


(3) Gwin, L. and A. Thiboumery. 2013. Local Meat Processing: Business Strategies and Policy Angles. Vermont Law Review (June). Available at: http://lawreview.vermontlaw.edu/files/2013/08/12-Gwin-Thiboumery.pdf.


(4) Gwin, L. and A. Thiboumery. 2014. Beyond the Farmer and the Butcher: Institutional Entrepreneurship and Local Meat. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. Available at: http://www.agdevjournal.com/volume-4-issue-2/416-beyond-farmer-and-butcher.html?catid=155%3Aopen-call-papers



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