Local Meats and Marketing

Author: Lauren Gwin, Small Farms Program, Oregon State University

Publish Date: Fall 12

Consumers want local meat and poultry, and farmers and ranchers want to deliver. But getting meat to market can be complicated. Over the last two years, the OSU Small Farms Program has provided valuable, practical education about existing and emerging market options and strategies to at least 250 beginning and experienced livestock producers in Oregon.

We started with a “Meat Track” at the 2011 Small Farms Conference. We offered sessions on niche meat production, processing, and marketing, plus a half-day carcass breakdown workshop. We recruited experienced producers as speakers, sharing expertise and lessons learned.

Later that year, we held two smaller workshops. At “Farmers, Chefs, and Local Charcuterie,” we covered regulations, food safety, and a “how to” demo by Eli Cairo and Tyler Gaston of Portland-based Olympic Provisions. Starting with a pig’s head, they explained how to make guanciale (cured pig jowls), then coppa and dry cured chorizo. State and county regulators who attended also benefited from the workshop, because the relevant regulations are complex and evolving.

“Multi-Species, Multi-Market Channel,” with David Evans, of Marin Sun Farms, covered yield tests and pricing formulas; co-supplier relationships; inventory management; market channel trade-offs; and the financial and regulatory requirements of retail butcher shops. Participants shared experiences, aspirations, what worked, and what had not. As one reported, “I found this the single most helpful thing I have done for my business this year. Having the opportunity to speak with a successful producer and glean insight from his mistakes will undoubtedly save me from many of my own.”

We provided one-on-one guidance and technical assistance to several dozen producers, often about processing and distribution. Examples include: hosting a meeting about infrastructure needs with a regional distributor and two producer-marketers pursuing parallel plans; helping a grass-fed beef producer strategize how to improve the stability of her supply chain, then helping her write a successful funding proposal; assisting a beginning poultry farmer with regulations, supply chain partners, technical approaches, and costs associated with his plans; and identifying scale-appropriate inventory management systems for a multi-species meat marketer. We also spoke about niche marketing at three livestock producer events.

The 2012 Small Farms Conference Meat Track featured a pair of sessions on multi-species, multi-channel niche meat marketing, basic and advanced. A third session outlined new state regulations for small-scale poultry processing. In a full-day hands-on workshop, we trained producers on those new regulations along with best practices for open-air processing, (http://smallfarms.oregonstate.edu/sites/default/files/bestprxopenairpoul...). During the summer, we held similar workshops in Jackson, Clackamas, Lane, and Hood River counties.

Event evaluations showed increased knowledge on every topic and that participants would apply what they learned to their operations. As one participant in the carcass breakdown workshop said, “I have been a rancher my entire life and have never learned as much about my product as you provided in this experience.” Some participants reported making significant changes, with new business approaches, marketing plans, and processing partnerships.

We also expect that many participants have chosen not to niche market due to costs, risks, and current relatively commodity prices for conventionally raised livestock. “Opting out” is not a negative outcome for most producers, who may otherwise take on added risks without increasing profitability.

This project has established the OSU Small Farms Program as a source of useful, practical information related to local, niche meat marketing, and a hub for Oregon farmers and ranchers to learn from each other about it. We thank the Western Center for Risk Management Education and Oregon State University for funding support.