Farmer-owned pork plant starts processing

Dawson, Minn. — Minnesota’s newest pork processing facility is up and running. The Prairie Farmers Cooperative plant began processing in early February.

The plant is the culmination of seven years of work since the cooperative was formed to provide members with markets for their product and stable prices for their hogs. It is owned by 82 small, independent pork producers from southwest Minnesota.

“We’re learning every day,” says manager Jack Hawk. “We had some of the typical start-up problems, but we were fortunate to have good help to work through them. Now that we have the slaughter process smoothed out, we can move on to the premium products.”

Initially the cooperative is producing fresh pork products, but it expects to introduce products like bacon and ham later this year under the Prairie Farmers label.

The state-of-the-art, 24,000 square-foot facility has the capacity to process about 300 hogs per day. A computerized record-keeping system can trace pork products from the dinner table back to the originating farm.

The plant, which will employ 45 people at full capacity, not only boosts the local economy but gives producers the opportunity to capture more value. That is a significant benefit, says Darrell Bartholomew, AURI meat scientist. “Farmers will be able to carry their products further along the marketing chain and reap greater rewards from the products that are sold.”

Bison producers band to reach consumers

St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota bison will be more widely available in grocery stores thanks to a cooperative effort of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, AURI and producers.

Minnesota Premium Bison, a producers’ marketing club, started working with MDA and AURI last year to identify statewide markets. Although individual producers were marketing to small, local grocery stores, they didn’t have the supply to tap larger markets.

“One producer may have a hard time supplying enough product to meet demand, but if he or she networks with others, they can create, supply and build a strong market,” says Paul Sand, MDA marketing specialist.

“By working together these producers are reaching new markets they couldn’t individually,” says Dennis Timmerman, AURI program director. “They’re doing something to help themselves.”

Biodiesel bill passes legislature

St. Paul, Minn .— Years of work have finally paid off for biodiesel advocates. In March, the Legislature passed a bill requiring that diesel sold in Minnesota contain a 2 percent biodiesel blend.

“This is an historic day in Minnesota,” said Ed Hegland, Minnesota Soybean Growers Association president. “Our legislators have pledged support of biodiesel, an alternative fuel that will not only help rural development in Minnesota, but lead us toward cleaner air and a take a first step toward less dependence on foreign oil.”

The mandate will take effect in 2005 – or sooner if two conditions are met: the state’s biodiesel production reaches 8 million gallons and the federal government provides a 3 cent-per-gallon tax credits for biodiesel users.

“This is a positive for value-added agriculture,” said Edgar Olson, AURI executive director. “Biodiesel will help open up significant new markets for Minnesota’s farmers.”

Research has shown that emissions from biodiesel are less toxic than from petroleum diesel, and biodiesel increases fuels lubricity, which reduces engine wear. Diesel engines exempted from the mandate include those used in nuclear power plants, railroads and off-road vehicles used in copper and taconite mining and logging.

The Senate vote was 53-11; the House vote was 78-53.