Food Processing Center


Date of this Version

May 2004




The Food Processing Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, conducted a survey of meat processors in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, and Wisconsin in the second half of 2003. The survey was conducted as part of the North Central Initiative for Small Farm Profitability—a USDA funded initiative. The Meat Processors Association in each state provided assistance in sending surveys to over 500 meat processors. Eighty-four meat processors completed the survey for a response rate of 16%.

The survey found that small and very small meat processors in Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin are actively involved in providing inspected slaughter and processing services for producers. In fact, of the 67 USDA/State inspected survey respondents, 48 (72 percent) indicated that a portion of their business activity was derived from inspected processing for producers. On average, inspected processing for producers accounts for 37 percent of their business. The USDA/State inspected respondents also expressed significant interest in increasing the percentage of their business derived from processing for producers, with 42 percent stating that they were very to extremely interested in increasing the percent of business derived from this activity. The fact that 45 of the 67 USDA/State inspected plants requested inclusion in a Directory of Meat Processors that provide USDA/State inspected services supports the conclusion that small and very small meat processors are truly interested in working with producers.

What would it take to encourage non-USDA inspected processors in the 4 states to become USDA inspected? When asked, “What would motivate you to become USDA inspected?”, 42 percent of the respondents indicated that they had no interest in USDA inspection and that nothing would motivate them to become USDA inspected. Thirty-two percent indicated "interstate shipment" could be a motivating factor for becoming USDA. Only 2 respondents indicated that they either were in the process or were interested in becoming USDA inspected.

USDA/State inspected respondents expressed significant interest in obtaining organic certification. Approximately one-fourth indicated an interest in organic certification while approximately one-half expressed no interest. Twenty-one plants in the 4-state area indicated that they were interested in obtaining organic certification. With only 3 respondents in the 4 states stating that they already have organic certification, this would be a tremendous increase in organic meat processing capacities for the region.

The majority of meat processors provide beef and pork services for producers. None of the USDA/State inspected processors were interested in the slaughter of poultry even though 19 percent expressed an interest in the further processing of poultry. An informal interview conducted by the Food Processing Center with meat processors found the following three reasons processors were reluctant to slaughter poultry; 1) they did not have the equipment for efficient poultry slaughter; 2) chickens/poultry make a tremendous mess and it is next to impossible to get all the feathers, etc. in clean-up; and 3) concerns for bacteria such as salmonella that chickens might bring into the plant. Theses same plants were open to doing further processing of poultry carcasses/meat that were slaughtered elsewhere under USDA inspection. One USDA plant made the comment, “build me a separate dedicated chicken plant that is properly equipped, then I might do chickens.”

The survey results strongly support the conclusion that small and very small meat processors are interested in collaborating with other processors and meat market participants. Meat processors have limited experience in developing collaborative markets for by-products and waste products. While more than 40% are very to extremely interested in developing collective markets for by-product, offals, rendering, and marketing programs/activities. Many small and very small meat processors are also interested in working cooperatively with others to develop local/regional meat marketing enterprises. The survey asked meat processors their “level of interest in participating in a collaborative effort that brings together market participants such as producers, processors, retailers, and restaurateurs to discuss potential opportunities and barriers for locally produced meat products.” Forty-six percent of USDA/State inspected plants are very to extremely interested in such collaborative efforts. In fact, less than one-fourth of the USDA/State inspected plants stated they had no interest (12 percent) in such a collaborative effort or did not answer the question (10 percent).

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