A Rare Look Inside

Published on: 14:16PM Jul 13, 2009
For those of you who came from the Beef Today site, go with me on this. Rarely do packing plants let reporters in the door, especially with a camera and a digital recorder. Now, I know it’s hogs, but this Missouri girl was raised bi-species (hogs and cattle.) So when the Missouri Pork Association asked if I wanted to go along, I of course said yes. Heritage Acres Foods is a producer-owned pork processor in Pleasant Hope, Mo., who has been working with several hog producers in my area. They process a range of fresh pork products and work with Ozark Mountain Pork to supply meat that is further processed into sausages, etc. Heritage Acres also handles multiple production claims—from organic, natural to conventional and breed-specific.
Animals are delivered to the facility mainly by semi (although gooseneck trailer unloading is available), unloaded by group and housed in holding pens. Hogs are moved through the holding gates until they reach the shock and stun station. 

Holding pens

Carcasses are scalded, washed and moved through the various processing procedures before they are sent to the cutting floor. Since the major product coming from this plant and this kill group are fresh loin racks, several carcasses are hung in refrigerated coolers ready for processing.

Those production claims (organic, natural, breed-specific) are shown on the outside of each box. For example, there were several pallets of Nature’s Choice Duroc meat.

The facility has space to kill about 1,500 head of hogs per day, and process 2,000 head per day. Right now, they total about 4,000 head per week, with most products headed to export markets. Dedicated product lines ensures the separation of products. In June, the facility began using an automated accounting program to trace a producer’s individual animal through the processing facility. This will provide the producer yield analysis and will pave the way for a compensation system based on the true value of product, says Russ Kramer, chief operating officer.
Creating Sustainability
“The Heritage Acres mission,” says Joe Maxwell, CEO, “is to be the largest differentiated agricultural product company in the United States, while sustaining the family farmer. We’ve all had discussions about what farms out to look like. Heritage Acres believes that all farmers, all family farmers, all independent producers are good for America. Regardless of their size, scale or how they chose to produce their commodity products. Our goal is to find ways in which we can add value to their products.”

In a day of financial troubles, producers should be looking for new marketing opportunities to arise and be ready to evaluate their ability to incorporate these new tools.
For example, Maxwell tells a story about a potential meat customer that wanted antibiotic-free pork. Maxwell’s colleague tried to argue that antibiotics were not bad, and Maxwell kicked him under the table. “If I can do it and he will pay me $7 more? I’m doing it. When we talk about differentiating, it is about finding ways to differentiate, in this case, pork, from other producers.”
Heritage does not believe in mandatory anything, Maxwell adds. At Heritage Acres, any production measure should be market driven. Producers should be given the right to choose which programs they want to go in. But in Maxwell’s experience, people will follow the money.
“If it pays more, odds are people are going to produce it,” Maxwell says.