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Sustainable Agriculture

New Processing Plant Creates Profitable Poultry Sales in Mississippi

While farmers across the country, particularly in the mild South, are increasingly interested in profitable pastured poultry enterprises, the limited number of processing houses for small quantities of birds has become a major roadblock. With SARE funds, Heifer Project International has chipped away at that obstacle, creating more processing opportunities in Kentucky, Alabama, and Mississippi by building a unit on wheels, expanding an existing plant to include poultry, and helping streamline state policies restricting processing.

In Mississippi, representatives from Heifer Project International worked with Blackwater Farms of DeKalb to upgrade their plant, which already processed steers and other ruminants, to include poultry. In mid-2004, Blackwater unveiled the new-and-improved plant on the Mississippi-Alabama border. It serves as a hub for a new network of five poultry growers who now process some 500 birds a week and co-market to restaurants in Jackson and Birmingham. “It fills a need,” said Gus Heard-Hughes, Heifer’s Alabama coordinator, who continues to work with the network on sales options like farmers markets, especially during the winter season when supply continues apace but demand traditionally slackens.

Thanks to Heifer-sponsored meetings with public officials, Mississippi legislators passed a new law that allows poultry processors who follow specific guidelines to be exempt from inspection and process up to 20,000 birds a year, in keeping with federal rules.

In Kentucky, Heifer worked with public health officials to construct a state-approved mobile unit to process poultry, freshwater shrimp, and fish. While they envisioned a unit that would travel from farm to farm, the unit thus far only travels for aquaculture processing—poultry requires more equipment and a more elaborate base station. Poultry processing in the unit has been limited to its home base in Frankfort, with another station under construction in eastern Kentucky.

Farmers have slaughtered a few thousand chickens at the new unit, but aquaculture, with lesser processing restrictions, is its likely future, said Steve Muntz, Heifer’s USA Country Program Director and leader of the SARE-funded project. “It was a huge accomplishment to get something like this approved and to raise awareness of how big this issue is,” said Muntz, who sees pastured poultry as a lucrative supplemental enterprise, particularly for small-scale or limited-resource farmers. “Small farmers don’t have access to processing.” The project also spawned publications for farmers about poultry-raising, including an entrepreneur’s “toolbox,” guides to processing and genetics, and poultry nutrition.

 

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