Farmers are making little profit, have nowhere to harvest their food and are out of options to keep their farms in business.
“Small producers have no place to go to have our products processed where we can sell it legally,” said Gary Bothun, Merced County turkey farmer.
So farmers from around the local area gathered on Tuesday at the Turlock Livestock Auction Yard to meet with Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe to discuss some solutions to the on-going problems farmers are facing.
“It is good to hear firsthand what the challenges are and I can take this back to Washington with me,” Perciasepe said.
According to those present at Tuesday’s forum, the biggest challenges for farmers are finding U.S. Department of Agriculture certified harvest plants in their area.
Merrigan suggested one potential solution of mobile harvesting houses and keeping the current harvesting plants in business.
“It is about how to keep facilities there,” she said. “We have to use what we have well. Creating new facilities is a bigger hill to climb.”
But from what farmers are saying, there are not enough USDA certified harvesting plants in the first place.
“We don’t have the facilities to harvest our meat,” said Ward Burroughs, farmer in the Organic Valley Cooperative. “We are caught between a rock and a hard place.”
For farmers who grow organic meat or grass fed animals, they have stricter restrictions and guidelines to follow, said Burroughs. They have to take their meat to a harvesting plant that is USDA certified by an approved third party and they have to have a USDA certified butcher.
They have all these requirements and restrictions but not enough places to keep the wheel rolling with organic or grass fed meats.
“We don’t have a place to harvest,” Bothun said.
Currently, the only option for farmers is to sell their animals live to commercial plants, he said. By selling their live animals to commercial plants they have too many middle men dealing with their meat, which in the end takes more profits away from the farmer.
Also with the process of selling their animals live, there is “no longevity in sustainability,” said Rosie Burroughs, farmer in the Organic Valley Cooperative.
There is no way of being 100 percent sure that a commercial plant will buy the live animals if they find cheaper animals elsewhere, she said.
Farmers also want to have USDA certified harvesting plants locally so they can sell locally, said Rosie Burroughs.
Not only does it cut the costs for the farmer of transportation to USDA certified harvesting plants, but it gives the locals the knowledge of where their product is coming from, said Robyn Smith, natural resources conservation service with the Yosemite/Sequoia Resource Conservation and Development Council.
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