Think of it as a marriage at the meat locker: small Iowa meat processors keep track of who is interested in a quarter of beef or a naturally raised hog and then match that customer with a producer. As these “perfect matches” and consumer interest in locally raised meats increase, small Iowa meat processors are gaining support from ISU Extension and the Small Meat Processor Working Group.
“We are the matchmakers,” said Clint Smith, owner and operator of Stanhope Locker. “We are developing that relationship between the customer interested in locally raised meat products and the producer. It is a steadily increasing market.”
But the market has a lot to learn. Iowa Meat and Poultry Inspection Bureau Chief Dr. Gary Johnson reports his department receives calls from consumers who have questions about cuts of meat and the amount to expect from an animal. “There is a whole new clientele to educate, and great opportunities for Iowa’s small meat processors to satisfy the growing demand. Iowa State University Extension educational resources are valuable to our department as we address these questions, build awareness among consumers and work with processors.”
Extension’s Small Meat Processor Working Group brings processors, regulators, educators and business consultants together to identify processor needs and the resources to address those needs. Working group discussions also have prompted ISU Meat Science Extension to team with Extension’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) and Value Added Agriculture program to offer trainings on business sustainability, as well as educational sessions that are expanding the meat processors’ business savvy — helping them understand customer preferences, product marketing and succession planning, and develop and use accounting systems.
ISU rural sociology graduate student Arion Thiboumery, who helped organize the working group three years ago, said ISU Extension has broadened the scope of its interaction with meat processors – by expanding the education on meat product, processing and food safety to include issues of business development and sustainability. This is helping small meat processors like Clint Smith work smarter, not harder, as they make “marriages” between niche meat and traditional meat producers and consumers wanting to buy Iowa-raised meat products.