Slow food, faster
To beef up the local meats market, ranchers may go mobile
If small, local ranchers want to get their red meat into local hands, they have limited options. They can drive their livestock a few hundred miles to slaughtering and meat-packing plants in California, Arizona or Utah to be USDA inspected—an expensive trip that also defeats the purpose of “local foods.” Or they could sell it as part of a meat share, where, for example, a consumer could buy a quarter or half of a cow from a rancher, the rancher would take it to a slaughterhouse, and it would be processed (cut and wrapped into pieces). But if it’s not USDA inspected, the rancher would be liable for safety issues that occur with the meat, even if the consumer left it on the counter to spoil. Another option is to take it to Wolf Pack Meats.
“We are the only USDA plant where you can have your animal harvested and processed under USDA inspection,” says Wolf Pack Meats facility manager Mike Holcomb.
But one, largely state-funded facility may not be enough to support what could be a growing market for Nevada ranchers, as “local” and “grassfed” are becoming common and desirable buzzwords in the grocer’s butcher case.
“If we’re going to build this industry, and there’s dozens of farmers doing it, you’re going to need more than one processing plant,” says Ann Louhela of Western Nevada College’s Specialty Crop Institute. Louhela will present at the Red Meat Mobile Slaughter Unit Information Session, a free event on Sept. 9 that will explore the feasibility of bringing the units to Nevada.
“Mobile slaughter units are self-contained slaughter facilities” says Clint Koble, executive director of the Farm Service Agency. “It doesn’t go from ranch to ranch, but it can at least get them close,” he says of the units, which instead would go to nearby docking stations. Ranchers could bring their livestock to the unit for slaughter and processing, and a USDA inspector would also come to the docking station, making it a one-stop shop for slaughter, processing and inspection.
“You’ve got this vehicle and the inspector, so you have to make sure you’ve got enough animals where it will be cost-effective,” says Louhela.
“There’s a lot of what-ifs with this thing,” says Holcomb. “These things are not cheap.”
It’s uncertain how it would be paid for, but funding opportunities through USDA Rural Development will be discussed at the session.
“In the past couple of weeks, you’ve heard about food safety issues with eggs and meat recalls,” says Koble. “Food safety is a big issue in America. The trust in locally grown products—vegetables, fruits, livestock—food safety is a much bigger issue now than it used to be.”
Norris Albaugh of Albaugh Ranch raises grassfed beef and lamb in Fallon. He says Fallon has two local slaughterhouses that are USDA inspected, but not processing plants.
“From my perspective, we need a processing unit that’s USDA inspected,” says Albaugh. “To me, it doesn’t matter if it’s a mobile unit or a fixed unit. The USDA stamp is the mark of approval that the American consumers by and large want. … It’s hard for a small farmer like myself to compete, and we need the USDA inspection to be able to compete.”