USDA-certified mobile slaughter unit proposed

Double S Meat cutters, from left, Julio Alatorre, Jorge Juarez, Servindo Garcia and Ned Van Brunt gear up for a day of processing beef Friday, June 15. Van Brunt and Juarez have 60 years experience cutting meat. "Having a USDA certified slaughterhouse in Tonasket is going to be a super deal for the locals. Not only will it help the local ranchers, but it will bring in more work and hopefully create some more jobs," said Van Brunt, adding, "Not bad for a box cutter."

TONASKET — A USDA-certified mobile slaughtering unit may soon be located in Tonasket.

City council members directed staff to work with the Planning Commission to review the zoning code and make a recommendation to council on if, where and under what conditions a slaugherhouse would be permitted.

The motion was made following a presentation on livestock processing by Alyssa Jumars at the June 12 city council meeting. The zoning code currently prohibits slaughterhouses in all zoning districts within city limits.

Jumars works part time for the Methow Conservany as the Ag Coordinator and is the project manager of the Okanogan Meat-Processing Study, which conducted a needs assessment and feasibility study for a USDA meat processing plant in Okanogan County this spring. They received responses from 95 producers, and determined Tonasket to be an ideal location for the facility.

The Conservancy is working in partnership with the TwispWorksFoundation, Okanogan County Conservation District and Double S Meats, along with a producer advisory group.

“Many Okanogan County producers have a niche market for farm raised meats,” said Jumars. “Lack of processing is a primary obstacle to success and growth. For producers, the need is urgent and affecting short term opportunites for farms.”

Jumars said a processing facility would ideally serve diverse livestock options including cattle, bison, pigs, sheep and goats with USDA-inspected processing.

Area farmers and ranchers now have two options for meat processing; use a custom exempt plant or use a USDA inspected plant of which there are none in Okanogan County. Jumars said there are five custom exempt plants in Okanogan County.

Custom meat facilities are licensed to process to process animals purchased "on-the-hoof" by private individuals. Meat processed at a custom-exempt facility can only return to that individual, and cannot be sold by the cut, to stores, or to restaurants.

Meat processed in USDA certified facilities can be sold anywhere, and by the cut.

“The opportunities here to market meat are limited without that option to have farm-raised animals processed at a USDA plant. Many producers also feel that even the need for custom-exempt processing is under-served,” said Jumars.

Of the 95 producers responding to the survey, 20 percent said they are considering raising fewer animals due to the lack of processing options, 40 percent said they were actively looking for a better opportunity to process their products and just 10 percent said their needs are being met.

Jumars said when asked about market opportunities going unserved, 30 percent of respondents said their primary barrier to growth was lack of access to a USDA certified processing facility.

“If we removed that barrier, a number of producers indicate they could increase production by as much as 75 percent to serve demand they already have for USDA-inspected product,” said Jumars.

The data indicates there is significant need for a USDA-inspected processing facility -- but not necessarily enough to support a new USDA plant, built from the ground up. "We have an intermediate alternative with an established facility here in Tonasket. This is an incredible opportunity to meet the need where it is.”

Jumars said the facility in mind was the “recently built new, state-of-the-art, 2,700- square-foot facility” of Double S Meats, located on Highway 97 at the south end of town.

Double S Meats was founded in 1983 by current owner Gavin Pratt's father, Leonard Schwitzer, and rebuilt in 2013.

“They employ five full-time workers and have secured the trust of livestock producers who have already used them,” said Jumars. “They currently serve many local ranchers with custom-exempt processing.”

“But we are also a USDA inspected plant for our wholesale cut&wrap, so if we buy certified meat from a USDA plant, we can sell that meat to anyone,” said Pratt.

Double S Meats is located near the greatest concentration of livestock production in the county.

Pratt said when asked if they would be interested in participating in the study, they agreed.

“My understanding is, there is great enough need. They are going to do it someplace, and we would just as soon do it here to create more jobs,” said Pratt, “and it has the potential to bring in $280,000 of taxable income per year for the city of Tonasket.”

“It's going to be a super deal for the locals. Not only will it help the local ranchers, but it will bring in some more work and hopefully create some more jobs,” said Ned Van Brunt, a meat cutter with Double S Meats since the mid-1980s.

Double S Meats is located on 4.5 acres, with plenty of room for expansion.

Pratt said the first barrier was that his property in Tonasket was zoned for processing but not slaughter.

“We are looking at a small scale operation, doing four to eight beef per day.” said Pratt, adding that they would model a mobile slaughtering facility after Smoky Ridge Meats in Colville.

“They have a few holding pens, and that is what we are looking to mimic right now,” said Pratt, adding that animals would likely not be held overnight, but slaughtered the same day. Trimmings and offal, as is done now when they take in halves of beef, would be picked up weekly by a rendering service. Pratt said they envisioned putting the mobile slaughtering unit on the southwest corner of the building, and the holding pens in the lower field out of sight from the main roadway.

“One of the nice things about USDA certification is, you are held to the highest standards in both cleanliness and humane animal handling,” said Pratt. “They (USDA) witness the whole process.”

Area livestock producers who did not take the survey and would like to respond can visit www.okmeatstudy.net. For more information, Jumars can be reached at alyssa@methowconservancy.org or 509-996-5873.

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