A group of Southwest Wisconsin poultry producers was awarded a Value Added Producer Grant through the USDA Rural Development Program in September of 2018. This is a planning grant with a 100% match, says Gene Schriefer, Extension Ag Educator for Iowa County that has been helping to organize the producers.
We have several farmers in the 4 counties with poultry enterprises that are finding economically viable marketing opportunities enabling them to grow their businesses. As they have learned to get product into more urban settings and grown their production, it has necessitated crossing state lines. Any way you look at this, Southwest Wisconsin simply does not have enough people to eat all that we can produce. We need to figure out how to move product to where it’s wanted. Access to processing with USDA certification is becoming a larger barrier to continued expansion of their business.
The producers raised nearly $24,000 from their own support and in local funds which leveraged a match of $24,000 from USDA to study the feasibility of locating a USDA processing facility in Southwest Wisconsin. In order to accept the grant, a processing cooperative was created and filed with the State of Wisconsin.
We’re defining poultry loosely to include chickens, turkeys, waterfowl, guinea hens and rabbits since they would all use similar equipment. Our next steps are to develop a survey of current poultry operators and access the level of demand for processing and other services that a facility might be able to offer.
How much processing capacity is currently needed? Would there be changes in production if a USDA facility were available? What are average transportation and processing costs? Is their demand for value added processing such as preparing stuff breasts, boneless/skinless cuts or ground product? Do producers need organic processing and would access to a cold storage facility enable them to manage inventory and improve their marketing capacity?
While the survey is underway, coop members are looking at similar facilities across the Midwest and learning from their experiences to avoid mistakes where possible.
With this information we can go through a business feasibility process and evaluate if the volume and numbers are adequate to support such a facility. Processing is labor intensive. Can a plant pay a living wage for skilled workers? Is the number 100,000 birds/year, 500,000 or over a million? We don’t know. Before any further capital investments are made, this is crucial information to know.
Fundamentally, the producer needs to produce something someone wants to buy at a price you can earn an acceptable profit on. More consumers are voting with their dollars, wanting to know where and how their food is produced, and that their dollars end up in a farmer’s pocket rather than everyone but the farmer who assumes all the risk.
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