Meat Producers look to small packing plants


As backlogs at large, processing plants cause challenges for producers, some in the industry call for more small plants to prevent the problem in the future.

A fourth generation cattle rancher started a farm store at the beginning of the year, but its not easy to get meat processed.

“We are having to haul three hours one way to get the USDA inspected processor...and they’re so booked up right now they are making appointments into January of next year,” Mark Phifer of Phifer Farms in Arkansas said.

Demand for local meat is growing. Mark says that there are limited resources for producers who want to sell commercial products.

“As far as small USDA inspected plants, you just have to call around and try to find them; there is no resource I have found, ever, that has a list of where they are or who they are,” he said.

Some in the beef industry are calling for more small USDA packing plants, but it is not easy to start from scratch. According to Kate Miller, “The problem with being a small really did not have a big enough plant to attract a substantial buyer.”

However, Miller says that the challenges facing the industry are likely to spark change.

“I think we will see a diversification of the packing sector. We are going to see a quick proliferation of small, medium sized packers,” she said. “My hope is that those things come true; it does nothing but enhance completion in the industry.

Miller goes on to say the industry will recover and it is important to plan for the long term, rather than act on the emotion of the moment.

For a producer to sell commercial product, meat must be USDA inspected; packing plants that are not USDA inspected typically provide custom processing for personal use.