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So. Md. slaughter trailer may be ready in spring
By SEAN CLOUGHERTY
MECHANICSVILLE, Md. (Jan. 20, 2015) — After a few years of hurdles and delays, a farmer’s push to bring USDA-inspected meat processing to Southern Maryland producers is close to completion.
With a final inspection scheduled for later this month, Johnny Knott Jr., said his mobile slaughter trailer and meat packing shop could be ready for use by early spring.
The trailer would visit farms where livestock would be slaughtered and dressed under USDA inspection and hauled back to Knott’s farm for butchering, packaging and freezing and either delivered or picked up by the farmer.
“I could have been up and running a year ago doing custom butchering but I didn’t want that,” Knott said. “I wanted USDA inspection.”
The inspection aspect gives farmers more options in selling individual cuts of meat rather than an “on the hoof” price for half or whole animals before it’s processed, Knott added, and also makes his services more valuable.
Knott’s path to getting the meat processing project completed has been a long and arduous one.
At first, more than five years ago, Knott planned to convert a tobacco barn into a slaughter house and meat packing business.
However, objections from neighbors turned him onto using a mobile slaughter unit.
Knott faced further neighbor opposition when he sought and was granted in 2012 a conditional use permit by St. Mary’s County to proceed with remodeling the barn and securing a truck tractor and trailer for mobile slaughter.
Knott said vocal opposition from neighbors has subsided.
“I don’t hear much about it anymore. If was all a big misunderstanding back then,” he said.
Knott’s early intentions were to buy a custom built mobile slaughter unit from a company specializing in such projects, but after more investigation, he decided to build one himself.
“I kept looking at (plans on) the computer and I said, ‘By God, I can do that myself,’” Knott said.
About a year ago he bought a Grumman Olson tractor trailer rig and began the conversion with the help of friend and welder Jimmy Bowles.
The trailer had to have a refrigeration unit added, along with a water heater, generator, insulation, waterproof light fixtures, reinforced roof and a center rail to hang and move carcasses.
Tommy Copsey, repainted the rig and Knott hired a retired butcher, and longtime friend, Joe Baliey, for meat processing.
Knott estimated he’s spent about $130,000 on project alone, not counting attorney’s fees and his time in completing the project.
But, that’s a bargain compared to the custom slaughter trailers he priced at about $200,000 or more.
He said there were a lot of times where he considered giving up on the project.
“But I just kept pushing,” he said. “I had too much money invested in it to quit. That’s the only thing that kept me going.”
As direct marketing of meat has taken off in Southern Maryland seeking to meet demand from locally raised products and as farmers transitioned from growing tobacco, the need for access to USDA inspected meat processing has increased.
The closest packing facilities have a two-hour drive one-way.
The Southern Maryland Agriculture Development Corporation and county farm bureaus have teamed up to purchase and maintain freezer trailers for rent to bring back frozen meat from those distances and Knott said SMADC has been working with him also to secure some funding for his project.
Initially he plans to serve farmers in the five Southern Maryland counties and some areas of Virginia’s Northern Neck.
Knott said there are a lot of farmers eager to see the project pass inspection and be able to bring the trailer to their farm.
“I know the Amish can’t wait for me to get started,” Knott said. “Everybody that goes by that I talk to talks about how nice it looks. I said, ‘Well, as long as it serves the purpose.”