Cows in pasture in Rome, Oregon
Oregon’s thousands of small farms raising fewer than 100 animals have had a hard time getting them slaughtered since the pandemic hit. (Photo by David Zaitz/Special to Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Farmers raising small herds of beef cattle, pigs or other meat animals in Oregon may have an easier time processing their meat for sale at farmers markets or grocers under rules being considered by the state Agriculture Department.

Advocates for small farms want to be sure the state is paying attention to their needs as they put in play funding and rules to expand the number of slaughterhouses that can process meat for public consumption.

When the pandemic shut down meat processing plants elsewhere in the U.S., some out-of-state producers shipped their animals to the 13 federally approved slaughterhouses in Oregon.

That, in turn, squeezed out small producers in the state, advocates say.

“The wait times reported by our farmers have been 12 to 18 months,” said Alice Morrison, organizational director for Friends of Family Farmers, which represents about 1,200 small farmers in Oregon. “We’ve had reports of people culling their herds and their breeding stock in order to make sure that they don’t have animals that they can’t move.”

The hearing will take place Wednesday from 1-2:30 p.m. on the proposed rules. 
For video, join with Microsoft Teams: Click here to join the meeting
Or for audio only, call 503-446-4951, 1834822#  
Phone conference ID: 183 482 2#
Send written comment by Dec. 22 (email or mail):
Sunny Summers, Oregon Department of Agriculture, 635 Capitol St. N.E., Salem, OR 97301
Or email: Sunny Summers

There are more than 1,300 farms with 100 or more head of beef cattle in Oregon, according to 2017 U.S. agricultural census data, the latest available. There are nearly 10,000 operations under 100 head.

Friends of Family Farmers hope many of them will weigh in during a public hearing on Wednesday about a grant program that was approved by legislators earlier this year.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture has written the rules governing the program. The hearing is for public comment.

The $2 million program will expand processing capacity for Oregon-raised animals in plants that meet U.S. Department of Agriculture standards. The state agency will also take written testimony postmarked by Wednesday, Dec. 22.

The state expects the program to help increase slaughterhouse capacity that meets federal standards, said Jess Paulson, the agency’s program area director. The program is for animals raised in Oregon.

Morrison wants to ensure that small producers are represented on the board being established to hand out the money.

“We want to ensure that at least one person on that committee has experience with meat processing for small and specialty producers,” Morrison said.

Advocates also want to ensure that small or specialty producers, including those targeting the halal market which requires slaughter in a certain way, are included in the program, which was created by the passage of House Bill 2785.

The bill was passed in preparation for a change in meat inspection in Oregon. Right now, processing plants have to be approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Though federal officials guarantee they’ll send an inspector even to smaller plants, Paulson said they often don’t.. 

In July, Oregon will start training state inspectors to meet federal standards. The plan is to add officials in Oregon to inspect small processing plants. Adding inspectors will enable small farmers to raise more animals and it will expand the amount of meat available from these farms, Morrison said. 

“In order to sell meat by the cut at a farmers market or through a CSA or even to grocery stores, you have to have USDA inspected slaughter and processing,” Morrison said. 

The Oregon program will be equivalent to the federal one, though sales will be limited to Oregon for at least a year.

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Les Zaitz for questions: Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.