SMADC to survey meat producers on facility
CHARLOTTE HALL, Md. — Meat producers in Southern Maryland seem to agree that they generally travel too far — hours in many cases — to have their animals processed.
Whether they produce enough meat to open their own processor or support a transportation facility that could significantly shorten those travel times appears to be up for debate.
The Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission said last week it will survey regional meat producers to determine whether they produce enough beef and other meat to support the construction of a transportation facility that could accept local farmers’ animals and move them to regional slaughterhouses for processing.
The commission met with regional farmers at Charlotte Hall Library on April 16 to talk with processors from across the state after it announced last month that it had abandoned an initial three-year effort to build a million-dollar facility that would have processed up to 3,000 animals per year.
“The build-it-and-they-will-come is not a good business plan as far as I’m concerned,” said Craig Sewell, the commission’s marketing and livestock manager.
Two processors attended the meeting: Michael Rodrigues of Fauquier’s Finest in Bealeton, Va., and Mike Brannon of Old Line Custom Meat Co. in Baltimore. Both said they were open to participating in a system that would regularly send them animals for slaughter and processing and return them, cut and wrapped, to a transportation facility where the meat could be held for pickup by local farmers.
But both said an ideal system would be reliable, with farmers sending animals on a regular schedule. It would require a firm commitment from the region’s farmers, many of whom run small operations that slaughter animals seasonly, often leading to long waiting times and backlogs at processors.
That kind of commitment is possible, said Shelby Watson-Hampton, SMADC director.
“I hope everyone is in agreement that this market has tons of room to grow,” she said.
Meat returning from processors could be stored at the facility in padlock-protected, refrigerated lockers for each farmer, she said. If the region committed to send enough animals, Brannon said he could invest in more advanced identification and tagging technology that would make it easier to sort and label animals as well.
And while farmers asked processors questions about services they offered, toward the end of the meeting, more farmers began questioning whether the region could support expensive new processing or transportation infrastructure.
“Everybody here says they want it, but who’s going to be the first to use it?” one farmer said.
But the money available for such a facility — more than $1 million potentially — won’t be available forever, Watson-Hampton said.
“It we don’t use it, that’s a real concern,” she said. “It’s been sitting on the books a long time, and it’s encumbered.”
Amish farmers in St. Mary’s County have nearly completed construction on their own slaughter and cut-and-wrap facility, which should provide more processing capacity for the region.
Another farmer wondered whether SMADC’s money would be spent best on grants for the region’s producers. Another suggested a small facility to make charcuterie, hot dogs and sausages.
“A finer processing facility would be a smart move,” Rodrigues said.
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