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The Economics of Regional Meat - Panel

Four experts answer audience questions on regional meat production and processing.

March 3, 2011: The Economics of Regional Meat - Interactive Panel Discussion


A panel of four meat value chain experts field audience questions on the economics of regional meat. This webinar is a companion to the Feb 17, 2011, NGFN webinar entitled "The Economics of Regional Meat".

To address a wide range of questions, we assembled a stellar panel, from different:

  • regions of the country (Northeast, Midwest and Southwest)
  • components of the value chain (farmers and ranchers, consultants, processors)
  • species expertise (beef, pork, poultry)


Our panelists

  • Chris Harmon and Nicole Day, Center for Agricultural Development and Entrepreneurship (our presenters on the Feb 17 webinar)
  • Arion Thiboumery, Lorentz Meats, Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network
  • Steve Warshawer, Beef Industry Improvement Initiative (of New Mexico), National Advisory Council on Meat and Poultry Inspection, Mesa Top Farm

Missed the Feb 17 presentation? You can review the recording and slides!

Webinar Recording



There were not many slides for this presentation, since it was an interactive panel - answering audience questions. However, here are the few slides that did appear in the webinar.

Presenter Bios

Chris HarmonChris Harmon originally hails from Indiana and graduated from Ball State University in Muncie, IN with a Bachelor of Science degree in land resource management with a focus on soil science, and a minor in energy resources. He moved to New York in 1991 to work for The Nature Conservancy as the Preserve Manager of the Lower Hudson Chapter and later became the Director of Stewardship Operations for the Eastern New York Chapter when the two chapters merged. 

Chris left The Nature Conservancy in 2002 to pursue his dream of farming.  With his wife and two children they purchased a 117 acre farm in Otsego County and began raising grass fed beef, pastured poultry and hogs.  He sold at several farmers’ markets for six years.  He now sells primarily to individuals, restaurants and CSA’s. Chris and his family now run a hundred head of beef and farm 300 acres.  Harmon became the Executive Director of CADE, the Center for Agricultural Development and Entrepreneurship, in 2007 after deciding to scale back his farming operation in order to spend more time with his family.

CADECADE, Inc. ( is a non-profit agricultural development organization serving farmers and agricultural businesses in New York. Since its inception, CADE has worked to connect producers of value-added farm products to markets. The organization conducts research on agricultural opportunities and markets with the goal of building a thriving community-based regional food system.  CADE is basically a non-profit consulting firm in the area of Sustainable Agriculture.  They provide strategic, technical assistance to clients (farmers, distributors, slaughterhouses, creameries, and commercial kitchens) in the areas of business development, financing, accounting, e-commerce, distribution and marketing.

Chris and his wife, Kara, and two children, Toby and Addison, live in Upstate NY on Sunset View Farm in Milford, NY in Otsego County.


Nicole DayNicole Day, originally from Southern New Hampshire, graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in Economics.  Nicole worked as an Associate in a Labor Economics Firm for over nine years. In 1998, Nicole started a natural foods manufacturing business, Mediterranean Delights, along with her mother based in Southern Vermont specializing in all natural and certified organic perishable hummus, whole grain & pasta salads and other Mediterranean-style foods servicing retail and foodservice markets on a national level.  After 12 years in the food business, Nicole moved to the Catskills and began working for the Center for Agricultural Development and Entrepreneurship (CADE), a not-for-profit organization based in Oneonta, NY serving farmers and agricultural businesses in New York.  Nicole began working at CADE as a consultant and then was asked to take the position of Director of Programming and Communications in September 2010.  Nicole's position includes grant writing, programming development while also working intimately with CADE's clients on various projects including marketing plan analysis, business analysis, HACCP plan development, customer service plans, organic certification plan development and food processing/manufacturing facility development.


Arion ThiboumeryArion Thiboumery is Vice President of Lorentz Meats in Cannon Falls, MN, a medium-small sized meat processor specializing in natural and organic meats. He also co-coordinates the Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network, a cooperative extension network working to support small meat processors ( Arion received his Ph.D. from Iowa State University.


Steve WarshawerSteve Warshawer wears many hats here at the National Good Food Network. He is the NGFN food safety coordinator, but he has a lot of experience in the regional meat business. Hailing from the Santa Fe area, Steve is a beef producer himself, and is on the Beef Industry Improvement Initiative (of New Mexico). He also has a seat at the national level on the National Advisory Council on Meat and Poultry Inspection.

Written Questions and Answers

There were many more questions asked and addressed verbally during the webinar. These are the questions our panelists answered in written form.


Mobile Units

Q: Would MPUs be a good fit for an AG cooperative venture?
A: MPUs have limited functionality!  They are slaughter plants.  There is still a need for aging facilities and cut and warp facilities to complement the on farm work of an MPU.  Here in NM we have an MOPU and we have had good cooperation from USDA and our state environment department, but they are not complete, entire solutions, they need to be part of a network of businesses and service providers.

Q: Please discuss mobile kill/processing units and your impressions of their cost effectiveness and applications.
A: The MPU's probably have a place in a systematic, regional network.  At present I think they are being touted as a panacea, but they are not.  There will be situations where they are applicable, but they are not a universal solution.  It would be necessary to assess the assets in a region to determine how an MPU might fit in.

Q: Might a mid-sized mobile slaughter unit for on-farm slaughter be able to harvest enough carcasses and cash flow to sustain a small meat cut-and-wrap facility three days a week, if the other two days are dedicated to processing animals slaughtered and chilled elsewhere?
A: You'd really need to build a financial pro forma to examine this. The questions are how much flow from the MSU to the cut and wrap with how much capacity at how much cost.

Q: Could you state again the annual # of birds that you would need to run through a Mobile unit to make it viable.
A: It's not an annual number but more like a daily number.  A bricks and mortar plant should run 75 - 150 birds per hour.  And a day they should have 500 to 1000 birds for the day.


Q: Where was the link for marketing beef?
Attendee Comment: On the question of marketing as local, most Slow Food groups are willing to send out announcements to their email lists or post on their web site, if there's a group active in your area

Q: Do you know if the national pork or national beef boards have researched some of the new product attributes that are being seen in the niche markets...grass based, 100% grass fed, heritage pork ...etc. We have a lot of small producers in VT working the niche, but not sure if they scale up (largely to match the needed flow to work well with slaughter) if the broader markets have the demand. We all know that the  consumer is king in the end  and we need to listen to the attributes that resonate to them. So in VT we have small farms that have found niche BUT they are really not making good money yet...they need to scale up and move more units. Added problem is that to get the good slaughter/processor relationship they need to ramp up animal flow too. I was just  wondering if the national producer boards are researching the niche attributes or if these new firms should set out to do their own regional market research with their own distributors.
A: I think that the national boards would happily research niches, I think we just need to, as a group of pasture and forage based producers, avoid the habit of negative selling against mainstream production if we want them to take us seriously.   The proteins differentiate according to consumer demand, and the national boards are all about understanding and measuring consumer demand.  I do not think that research of the type that you seek has been done by national boards.

Q: Is there any consumer research available that looks at consumer demand for type of meat (beef, pork, etc) and by cut/product ( ground, prime, whole pig, etc) ?
A: The National Pork Board and the National Cattlemen's Association have studies on this. Their contact info can be found online. Usually the data is national, so it might not be as helpful to your specific region.
A: There is lots of industry information about trends in per capita protein consumption, less so in relation to pasture and forage based proteins. 

Q: Any recommendations for working with a grocer that only wants to purchase chuck, rib, loin, and ground beef?  We are having a hard time finding outlets for sirloin, round, etc.
A: If you look at the entire carcass, often retail wants certain cuts, and food service (restaurant) wants other cuts.  To achieve maximum carcass utilization, you need other TYPES of customers to go along with the loyal retail.

Cooperatives and Trade Associations

Q: I wonder if we couldn't make great strides with cooperatively owned processing facilities - for on-the-ground efficiencies and leveraging resources that would make the business more feasible for the processors.  I don't see trade associations solving that issue.  If we can't solve the profitability of facilities, we can't solve the issue. A trade association - or federation - might help with promoting and encouraging serving this clientele, and definitely with training and education.  Thanks for the input! Cooperatives - in my opinion - would be better than associations!  Cooperatives work, and if they are owned by the producers, there is a great level of control that is part of the concern I hear from producers all the time.  :)
A: The recommendation from FSIS is to form TRADE associations, of like minded, like oriented, independent businesses.   That is not a role that co-ops are designed to fill.  These associations would not do business on behalf of their members, they would advocate for their collective interests and needs.  FSIS regional supervisor that I work with has had positive experience when independent businesses collaborate as an interest group though an association.

Q: Any ideas how we get existing small processers interested (or re-interested) in USDA Inspection and Organic Certification - and how we ensure succession planning is occurring in the processing industry (encouraging the next generation to get into the business)?
A: FSIS regional supervisors in DC have encouraged that we organize meat processors associations:  they feel that processors together can engage better technical and other kinds of support than processors can as individuals

Consumer Information

Q: How does one look up or determine when meat is in season for certain regions?
A: For ruminants it's largely consistent with the crop growing season, particularly when grass is in season.


Q: Is there a shortage of skilled butchers and if so how is this being addressed.
A: We sure see that problem in New Mexico.  We keep pushing for community colleges and land grant universities to offer training in this area.  But it is a bit of a catch-22...


Q: When you say build your plant, do you mean Slaughter + Cut & Wrap and do you mean USDA certified?  Not clear how you could do that with 400 head …
A: There are small plants in the Midwest that are inspected for both slaughter and processing that process around 500-700 head a year. It is doable. I'm not saying it's easy.

Aggregation & Distribution

Q: Could someone describe a little more of nuts-and-bolts of how currently operating (not past) collective shipping arrangements work? My concern with this is the coordinating effort that goes in to scheduling and putting together a load of animals -- who does that work? I suspect it's usually a farmer volunteering his/her time, and that's a recipe for rapid burnout.
A: I think that there needs to some kind of organizational capacity, could be  producer COOP or association, or could be a separate business or non-profit function.  When a single producer takes on that role for a group, it is usually because that producer is large enough to need the coordination for themselves, and then they can offer that service for neighbors or other small/mid scale producers.  Someone has to be doing this for clear benefit.  Or else, you are right, burnout or other unreliability is a likely outcome

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