BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - A new survey from Indiana University’s Sustainable Food Systems Science team has found that Indiana meat farmers could be more efficient and expansive if they had better access to meat processing plants.
The survey, conducted with the assistance of farmers from Nightfall Farm and Bowers Farmstead, was completed by 80 livestock produces from 30 Indiana counties. Collectively, the respondents raised and processed more than 180,000 animals in 2019. The vast majority (88 percent) of respondents indicated that processing is a barrier to the growth and sustainability of their respective farm operations.
“These results shed significant light on a growing bottleneck with Indiana’s food and agricultural economy,” said James Farmer, the principal investigator for the Sustainable Food Systems Science initiative and an associate professor in the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. “It’s clear that further infrastructure by means of increased processors or processing capacity is in order to help farmers around the state, and to support the continued expansion of local and regional food systems.”
The survey found that most (70 percent) farmers bypassed local meat processors in order to get better service. Proximity to the farm was not as important as factors like ease of scheduling and assurances that the processor was returning all of the farmer’s meat and that all of the returned meat was in fact the farmer’s to begin with.
“This problem is nationwide,” said Liz Brownlee, of Nightfall Farm. “Livestock farmers everywhere struggle with access to processors. It’s a stressful bottleneck and a significant hurdle if we want to grow our local food economy.”
One farmer noted that in one experience, he wasn’t sure the meat he’d sent for processing was the same that he received.
“I advertise as grass-fed, grass-finished, so it’s worrisome if the meant might not be mine and I’m not getting it all back,” he wrote. “That affects my reputation and my bottom line.”
Other findings from the survey include:
- Average gross meat sales in 2018 was about $68,000, with most (63 percent) responders selling direct to consumers, 19 percent selling to wholesale buyers, and five percent sold to distributors
- The majority of respondents (61 percent) raised beef cattle for sale, followed by swine (36 percent), chicken (30 percent), and lamb (18 percent)
- Farmers reported the average advance time to schedule meat for processing was 107 days
- Farmers reported their preferred time in advance to schedule was 29 days
- Nearly all respondents indicated that their animals being treated well was “very important”
Farmer said the survey results indicate a need to convene a series of conversations among farmers, processors, and regulating agencies to examine and respond to the challenges farms and processors mutually face. He noted other states have utilized models that have solved processing bottleneck challenges, and those models could be considered and possibly implemented in Indiana.
About the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs
The O’Neill School is a world leader in public and environmental affairs and is the largest school of public administration and public policy in the United States. In the 2019 "Best Graduate Public Affairs Programs" by U.S. News & World Report, the O'Neill School ranks first in the country. Four of its specialty programs are ranked in the top-five listings, including nonprofit management, ranked first.