The following story was written by a University of Missouri student as part of the 2010 Sonja Hillgren/Farm Journal Ag Journalism Field Reporting Institute. Learn more.
By Daniel Beerman
At Sappington Farmers’ Market in St. Louis, business manager Randy Wood discusses how customer demand for small-farm and local produce has increased in Missouri urban areas. In fact, demand outstrips the supply of some products on the store’s shelves, Wood says.
"Stock is a huge difficulty," he said.
Some 25 miles to the northwest in St. Charles, small farmers Ron and Jolene Benne describe how their sales to local customers are hampered by lack of access to a chicken-processing facility. The Bennes drive three hours to a processor in Illinois, a time-consuming and costly effort.
"We had to say no to a restaurant last week," said Ron Benne, who with his wife owns Benne’s Best Meats. "They asked for 90 birds."
Wood, the Bennes and others say a mobile processing unit could provide a solution.
The units provide sites for animal slaughter and processing to small operations in rural areas or places without access to state or federal plants. They may be outfitted for poultry, beef, fish and aquaculture or other agricultural products that require processing.
Mobile processing units are commonly designed as large trailers pulled by a truck. According to the Kentucky State University manual, trailers are equipped with propane-powered sinks, chilling units and livestock processing tools.
Researchers from the University of Wyoming found significant interest in mobile units from rural red meat producers in areas with no access to U.S. Department of Agriculture facilities.
According to a 2010 USDA compliance guide, processing units create sources of new business in rural areas. This allows small producers to expand production and meet their communities’ needs for forage-fed, natural and organic meats.
Beth Ewers, deputy director of the Meat and Poultry Inspection Program at the Missouri Department of Agriculture, said interest is especially high in Missouri poultry production because only three inspected processing plants exist in the state.
Seven states have USDA-approved units. According to the University of Iowa Extension website, mobile processing units are in operation for poultry or red meat in 11 states.
Bryan Trout of the Kansas and Missouri USDA field office said that logistics are the biggest challenge.