Organic Broadcaster

Organic Processing Institute digs into poultry processing issues

By Elena Byrne, Organic Processing Institute

Producers of relatively small numbers of poultry have indicated that access to processing plants, especially those offering organic processing, are a limiting factor.

During 2014, the Organic Processing Institute (OPI) engaged in conversations with poultry producers, processors, retailers and personnel from regulatory, academic and extension agencies in Minnesota and Wisconsin regarding the issues and barriers in building capacity to support regional, small-flock pastured poultry production, processing, and sales.

Scale of Production
Poultry processors face dual challenges in determining scale of production. Operating under capacity is costly, but increasing volume may require additional and more qualified labor, new or improved equipment, greater water capacity, and provisions for the disposal of increased quantities of waste. Maintaining a reduced scale of production may be a more sound financial decision in spite of concomitant market outlet restrictions.

Because the supply of organic and pastured poultry is lower in the winter for processors serving small-scale organic and pastured poultry producers, these processors operate at a deficit off-season or compensate by serving larger, non-organic producers. Also complicating processing scale and scheduling is the influx of game animals during the fall hunting season.

Small Batches
One problem revealed in previous studies is that processing flows do not easily accommodate smaller organic batches due to protocols for cleaning and sanitizing processing equipment. However, two processors included in OPI’s conversations indicated that small batch size is not a barrier provided that daily base quotas were met.

Producer Commitment
Processors indicated that working with small producers involves challenges if the producer can’t commit to delivering specific quantities or bird weights at specified times. This is thought to be due to complicating factors such as communication difficulties, procrastination on behalf of the producer, or variable yields and higher mortality in pasture-raised systems. The bottom line is that producer-processor communication is critical so that processors can set their schedules and plan for equipment and labor.

OPI has worked to increase awareness about the limited numbers of certified organic processing facilities for both meat and poultry, including with colleagues on the Wisconsin Organic Advisory Council, universities, certifiers, and businesses. For regional poultry production to better meet the region’s needs, inspected processing integrated with distribution and retail is needed. Communication will continue to be important: producers need to communicate with their processors, request organic certification, talk with each other, and ask consumers—and retailers—what they need to make better use of local, organic poultry.

Elena Byrne works for the Organic Processing Institute. Contact her at elena@organicprocessinginstitute.org.

Read about an alternative way to overcome poultry processing issues.

From the May | June 2015 Issue

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