With many meat livestock farmers that I talk to, sooner or later the topic of slaughter & processing comes up. Rarely does it seem to generate positive comments. Either the farmer feels like processing is too expensive, that they don't get everything back that they should, or that there just isn't room in processing line when they need one to be. Often the complaints refer to more than one of these issues. I'd be remiss if I pretended that I myself haven't had these experiences...the bill is how much (GULP)?
On the good side, I have a pretty positive relationship with my local processor and have heard the comments from the other side of that processing bill. Farmers who raise animals when the grass is green and want to ship everything in a September/October window of time. Farmers who don't understand the cuts of meat and options...such as if you want pork steaks, you have to cut up a ham. Farmers who are slow to pay. Processors have to pay to keep good help on, even in the slow times of the year.
On and on, it's a complicated system, and a very personal one. Each contributor to the relationship has the ability to make or break the business of the other. The side I fall on in this situation is that we all have to work together, because together we will succeed or together we will fall. The customers out there wanting to buy our products...they need us to succeed.
There will be more posts about this in the next few months as the VT Meat Workshop Series gets going, but in the mean time, we all need to take the time to learn more about the State of Meat in Vermont. For a great overview, check out the Farm to Plate Initiative Strategic Plan section on livestock infrastructure and meat processing. It;s an excellent read and a good place to start your education. Already it's been useful for mine.