Farmers flock to meat freezer program
HUGHESVILLE, Md. — Southern Maryland beef producers may often complain about the long distances they travel to regional processors, but a small trailer program started by the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission may be easing the burden somewhat.
The value and poundage of local meat transported from processors back to farms using the commission’s trailers has risen each year since 2012, commission data released this month show. In fiscal year 2012, two years after the commission purchased its first two freezer trailers to rent to farmers, about 25,000 pounds of locally produced meat valued at about $112,000 was hauled back to farms for sale across the region.
In fiscal year 2018, which ends next month, farmers hauled 102,084 pounds valued at $559,164, a four-fold increase in weight and a five-fold increase in value.
Craig Sewell, the commission’s marketing and livestock specialist, said he’d recently toured many of the farms that participate in the commission’s Southern Maryland Meats marketing program. Many of those farms use the commission’s trailers.
“Almost universally, everyone has increased, sometimes just incrementally, but increased meat production,” he said.
The trailers are part of larger effort by the commission to empower local livestock producers and agriculturalists in Southern Maryland. The commission announced earlier this month a renewed effort to build an ambitious agricultural center, including a meat processing facility and retail and warehouse space, in the region, which includes Calvert, St. Mary’s, Charles, Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties.
The commission has purchased four freezer trailers, which are granted to local organizations — county Farm Bureaus, for instance — and rented to farmers for about $75 per trip, Sewell said.
The trailer in Calvert County seems to be the most consistently used, transporting more than 41,000 pounds of meat valued at about $244,000 across 34 trips in fiscal year 2018, according to the county.
A trailer stationed in St. Mary’s County was also used frequently, with more than 35,000 pounds at a value of about $185,000 transported over 29 trips.
A fourth trailer had yet to report its results to the commission, Sewell said. It plans to release a full accounting of the freezer program’s growth later in the year, said its executive director, Shelby Watson-Hampton.
Meanwhile, Amish farmers are opening a meat processing facility in St. Mary’s County later this year, and if the commission succeeds in building its ag facility somewhere in Southern Maryland, the freezer trailer program could become less necessary.
“We’re going to keep them on the road. They’re being used,” Sewell said. “The ultimate goal is for Southern Maryland meat producers to not have to use freezer trailers to haul meat from hither and yon.”
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