Processing facility now main focus for SMADC

Associate Editor

CHARLOTTE HALL, Md. (April 19, 2016) — The Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission has pared down its ambitious agricultural park proposal to focus exclusively on a meat processing facility, satisfying the wishes of regional producers who crave a shorter drive to the butcher, a commission official said last week.
The commission hopes to have a request for proposals to the public by the end of April or early May, said Charles Rice, commission chairman.
The commission held a discussion about the RFP at Charlotte Hall Library in St. Mary’s County on April 11 where farmers discussed the need and the potential demand for such a facilty, which could be sited in St. Mary’s, Charles, Calvert, Anne Arundel or Prince George’s counties.
A processing facility “is the element of it all that is most desired by the farming community,” Rice said in an interview with The Delmarva Farmer.
“We want somebody or a group of people to submit something that’s feasible in size for a startup operation. It can start small with the ability to expand if need be. So it’s not like the request is looking for an exact capacity.”
Many beef producers in Southern Maryland can spend up to eight hours on the road each time they have animals processed at a USDA-certified facility.
St. Mary’s County farmer Joe Wood said he has his beef processed at Faquier’s Finest Meat Processing in Bealeton, Va. — a common destination for Southern Maryland producers.
The drive is two hours — four total — and he has to drop the animals off and return to pick up the processed beef.
He said he attended the commission meeting hopeful that a better alternative might soon be available. He began selling beef from his farm shop three years ago and has witnessed only growing demand for local meat products.
“As long as we keep the quality good and awesome, I think people will buy it,” he said. With the processing facility, “it sounds like everybody’s willing to work on it to try and get it done.”
The commission has about $1 million available to help pay for the project, said Christine Bergmark, the commission’s executive director. Grants are also available.
Since the state government bought out most of the tobacco industry in the 1990s, the commission has noticed an uptick in beef production, Rice said.
Producers and agricultural officials said they hope a new processing facility can boost more production.
An agricultural economist at the meeting said he did believe the regional cattle industry could expand through infrastructural improvements such as a processing facility.
James Raley Jr., president of the St. Mary’s County Farm Bureau, said he supports the project but worries the demand isn’t quite enough.
If it was there, why wouldn’t the market satisfy it?
Raley said he also worries that a facility with a low volume of animals may struggle to attract USDA inspectors.
But he said he hopes the facility would drive production upward.
“We all support efforts by SMADC to bring the slaughter facility online, and we write letters to that effect,” he said.
The commission was pursuing a much larger park proposal last year that included 20 acres of buildable land and 30 acres of tillable land to host a regional farmers market, a food distribution center and a commercial kitchen for producers who create retail products.
The commission even received proposals from 10 landowners last summer and wanted to release an RFP last September.
The park could eventually include those things, Rice said, but the commission chose to change course and focus only on what it determined was the most pressing item: a meat processing facility.
“It’s very clear that there’s a need,” he said.