“Local” is one of the hottest trends in the food business. While still a small percentage of the total, demand for locally produced foods has grown as more consumers believe the products are more fresh, more environmentally sound, higher quality or safer than foods from conventional supply chains. Some consumers also want to support their local farmers and ranchers, rather than the unknown producers of mass-market foods.
These trends spell opportunity for some beef producers to capitalize on a premium market and perhaps cut out the “middle man” by marketing beef directly to consumers. But in addition to the challenges of adopting a finished-beef production system and developing a market, producers in many areas simply do not have access to slaughter facilities near enough to be cost-effective, according to a new report from USDA’s Economic Research Service.
The report, titled “Slaughter and Processing Options and Issues for Locally Sourced Meat,” indicates somewhat of a “chicken or egg” scenario, in which local markets need slaughter plants to supply local meats and build demand, while steady, strong demand is necessary to attract processing companies.
According to the report, local, direct-to-consumer sales accounted for just 0.4 percent of total agricultural sales in 2007. However, they accounted for $1.2 billion in current-dollar sales in 2007, compared with $551 million in 1997, a growth rate of 118 percent.
Development of a local supply and marketing chain for melons or chili peppers is easier than for meats, and the report notes that 44.1 percent of all vegetable and melon farms participated in direct, local sales in 2007, compared with just 6.9 percent of livestock producers. Lack of slaughter facilities is, according to the report, a key reason more livestock producers do not participate.
The researchers collected data and mapped locations of federally and state-inspected slaughter facilities and compared those locations with the number of livestock producers in counties. Relative to the numbers of small cattle farms, they found a lack of small slaughter facilities in several regions, including across central Texas and into Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri, areas of the Southeast along the Appalachian Mountains, and numerous counties in the West.
The analysis focused on small slaughter plants, since large federally inspected plants typically do not offer custom, fee-for-service slaughter for small groups of cattle from independent producers. So for the purpose of local marketing, proximity to large plants is not beneficial.