Lamb producers see opportunity and challenge in direct marketing


Speakers addressed related topics on December 11, 2021, at a joint convention of lamb and wool producers in Fargo. The event brought together growers from North Dakota and Minnesota, as well as organizations involving growers from South Dakota and Montana.

Ann Crider, a producer from central Illinois and member of the American Sheep Industry Association Regional Council, described ASI’s new initiatives at the Joint North Dakota Lamb and Wool Producers Meeting and from South Dakota to Fargo, North Dakota on December 11, 2021. Mikkel Pâtés / Agweek

Ann Crider, a producer from central Illinois and member of the American Sheep Industry Association regional council, described ASI’s new initiatives, including the U.S. wool insurance program, which enables producers to classify and certify their wool to facilitate sale. ASI is also developing the Secure Sheep and Wool Plan, to enable growers to train and develop programs to comply with the US Department of Agriculture. Producers can take training and go online to help prevent closures if a communicable disease like foot-and-mouth disease is detected in their condition.

Regulations, work

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Travis Hoffman, Sheep Specialist for the North Dakota and Minnesota Extension Service, moderated a direct marketing panel including producer Ron Wolff, Oakes, North Dakota; Nathan Kroh, Meat Processing Regulator for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture; and Jim Ostlie, livestock specialist with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Kroh and Ostlie said there are three main levels of licensing for meat processors. First, there is the “duty free” level, which means that all meat must be returned to the original supplier for personal use only.

Jim Ostlie, a livestock specialist with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in Benson, Minnesota, said it was illegal to allow off-farm consumers to slaughter animals on unregulated Minnesota farms.  Nathan Kroh, head of meat and dairy regulatory programs for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture in Bismarck, said the practice is legal in North Dakota, as long as the producer doesn't help physically during slaughter and processing.  Photo taken December 11, 2021 in Fargo, North Dakota.  Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Jim Ostlie, a livestock specialist with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in Benson, Minnesota, said it was illegal to allow off-farm consumers to slaughter animals on unregulated Minnesota farms. Nathan Kroh, head of meat and dairy regulatory programs for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture in Bismarck, said the practice is legal in North Dakota, as long as the producer doesn’t help physically during slaughter and processing. Photo taken December 11, 2021 in Fargo, North Dakota. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Above are the two main categories of facilities inspected by the state and the federal government. These distinctions have similar requirements, with some difference in training aid and inspectors from state or federal authorities.

Kroh, NDDA’s science information coordinator, works with meat processing plants on food safety and hygiene, including permit requirements for the sale of protein. He is also the coordinator of the state dairy inspection program. Kroh half-joked that he is a “bridge between the meat cop” who points out gaps and helps Transformers get it right.

North Dakota has 76 factories exempt from customs, nine under state inspection and 11 under federal inspection.

Ostlie, a livestock specialist for MDA, is also a Suffolk and Red Angus sheep rancher from near Benson, Minnesota. Ostlie said his job was to “support the ranching industry in the state of Minnesota” and “encourage it to grow.”

Ostlie monitors zoning ordinances and connects farmers with resources to add value, including grants and loans for processing, as well as physical feedlots, and to help with marketing through the program. Minnesota Grown. The program also works with licenses for people developing the marketing of meat. At the height of the pandemic, the state provided “rapid response grants” for temporary or permanent storage space for their products. Inspection and Economic Division.

There are differences between states.

In North Dakota, it is legal to sell animals directly to consumers of meat under a “personal use” exemption. This happened more often at the height of the pandemic, when consumers bought animals directly from producers who were struggling to market the plants they typically sold.

North Dakota consumers / buyers have sometimes obtained meat by going to the farm or ranch and killing and processing their own meat. The producer / seller can provide a building and equipment for slaughter and processing, but cannot legally provide physical assistance.

In Minnesota, this type of marketing is completely illegal, Ostlie said.

‘Personal use’

Lavonne Beckler, of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, has bred Suffolks and Southdowns and has been raising sheep for 40 years. She says the availability of labor for local processing is increasingly constrained and strained. “It’s a problem, it’s huge,” said

The Staples, Minnesota, campus of Central Lakes College, and Ridgewater College at Willmar and Hutchinson, respectively, the two are developing “meat cutting certificate” training programs.

The North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, North Dakota launched a meat certificate program in the fall of 2021, in partnership with North Dakota State University.

Brad Pozarnksy, Bottineau, North Dakota, said he was facing issues with slaughterhouses making only beef, not lambs or pork.

“We need slaughterhouses that make lamb and pigs,” he said.

Ostlie said many small processors in Minnesota are reaching retirement age, lacking a succession plan, and closing their doors. The work is physical with variations in temperature, so not for everyone.

“It’s similar to a 50-cow dairy, not the next generation to take over,” he said of the time commitment.

Demand all year round

Wolff said his family has been raising registered Suffolk sheep near Oakes, North Dakota in the state’s southeast for 40 years. They sell seeds and raise 50 to 60 ewes. The family sells meat from 30 to 40 lambs per year. Most of the clients are repeat buyers whom they meet through contacts in the Farmers’ Market.

“Over the past three years we’ve been fortunate enough to have (pre-) priced every sheep that left our spot, and that sort of was our goal,” Wolff said. “We didn’t go to the sales barn with any of our lambs.”

Wolff said his family uses a federally inspected factory in Oakes. They sell at the Red River Market, a farmers market in Fargo, and have sold some of their ribs at Fargo restaurants. Meat sales are in “five digits” for lamb. He works for a fertilizer cooperative and is in contact with many farmers, some of whom have South African workers who have a preference for lamb meat.

He said there are sales opportunities in restaurants, especially if lamb eaters “can do it all year round.”


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