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Friday, February 8, 2013

My Big Day

I don't consider myself a political person.  In our state, we don't have to register to vote so I've never really declared a party.  I prefer to vote on people and issues and not a party line.  I have never campaigned actively for a candidate or given money to a political party.  But I've never missed a chance to vote.  Ever.

My parents were wonderful role models when it came to the political process.  There were only two reasons my dad would sign us out from school.  The first day of the State Class B basketball tournament, which in ND is a religion.  And to spend a day at the legislature every other year.  (Yes, our legislature meets every other year and only for 80 days.)  He made sure we sat on the floor with our legislators, went to committee hearings, and understood the legislative process.  By the time I went as a senior in high school, it was old hat.

Even with all that legislative experience, I'd never testified in a legislative committee hearing...UNTIL YESTERDAY!  I was excited and nervous and may have wiggled my back foot just a bit (my nervous tic) until I told myself to "Suck it up and Get on with it!"  Then, of course, I calmed right down.

It went well.  The committee had lots of questions.  I have some homework to do.  All in all, a great experience.

And if you'd like to know just what I said to the Senate Agriculture Committee today, here's my testimony!  (minus the tables that I can't post on the blog)

SB 2324 – Testimony
Annie Carlson
Morning Joy Farm – Mercer, ND

My husband and I own and operate Morning Joy Farm near Mercer, ND.  The same farm my grandparents bought in 1941.  Our three young children are the fourth generation to live and work on this land.  Our grass-based farm raises pastured broiler chickens, eggs, turkeys, pork and grass-fed lamb.  And while our pastured pork and grass-fed lamb products are very popular, it is our poultry that is our main enterprise.

All of our farm products are marketed direct to the consumer.  We do not sell to restaurants or grocery stores.  We do not sell at a farmer’s market.  We also do not advertise.  Our customers order our products in the spring of the year via a newsletter with an order blank.  In the past two years, we have tripled and doubled our production and continue to sell out long before the last batch of chicks ever arrives in the mail.  Our customers vary widely in age, family size, occupation and socio-economic status.  We have elderly ladies who order just two chickens.  We have large families that order 80.  We even have one customer who orders a chicken for each of her children for Christmas, as she told us, “They have every thing else, but they don’t have a good farm chicken!”

Why do we raise poultry?
1.     Pastured poultry production is seasonal.  We raise broilers from chicks to full-grown in 8-9 weeks.  Turkeys take 16 weeks to reach slaughter weight.  Our first batch of broiler chicks arrives the second week of May and we harvest the last batch by the middle of September.  Yes, raising poultry and processing it yourself is hard work, but it’s only hard work for 4 months of the year.
2.     Pastured poultry requires very little infrastructure.  We brood our birds in a grain bin with an Ohio brooder that I built from wood on our lumber pile.  The birds are moved daily to fresh pasture with portable shelters, that we have built, for the broilers or electric fence for the turkeys.
3.     We can process poultry on our farm.  This dramatically reduces animal stress before slaughter.  It also allows my husband and I to visually inspect each and every bird before it is packaged and sold to a customer.  Any birds that do not meet my rigorous standard are marked with a large “C” on the package and placed in our personal freezer for my family’s consumption.  We would not have this same level of quality control if we were to take our birds to a processing facility.

Why don’t we take our birds to a processing facility?
            The state of North Dakota has no public state or federally inspected poultry processing plants.  The closest USDA inspected facility is 295 miles away in Ashby, MN. 

Why do we need SB2324?
1.     This bill allows ND producers to follow the federal USDA regulations for poultry processing, specifically the exemption made for producer/growers who process less than 20,000 birds.  The exemption is found in P.L. 90-492. 
2.     As the state currently interprets this law, we would be required to have a facility, sanitation and record keeping inspection if we raise and slaughter more than 1000 birds in a calendar year.  (Keep in mind, this applies to all birds:  turkeys, broiler chickens, spent laying hens, etc.)  With these requirements, the only difference between our family farm operation and a federally inspected facility is that we wouldn’t have an inspector physically present to do a bird-by-bird inspection.  Otherwise, we would be required to have the same type and grade of facilities as a federally inspected plant. 
3.     Building a facility that would meet the facility and sanitation requirements that the state currently requires would cost our farm a minimum of $40,000 to $80,000.  In order for such an investment in infrastructure, that facility would have to run every day, year-round to cash flow.  Given our seasonal production model, that is not possible.
4.     The freedom to raise and process up to 20,000 chickens would allow more farmers to add poultry production to their operations.  As with most facets of agriculture, poultry production functions on an economy of scale.  The same killing cones, scalder, plucker, evisceration table, and chill tanks are used whether you are slaughtering 50, 500 or 5000 chickens.  Most of us start small, try it out, see if we can raise chickens, see if we even like chickens…and butchering chickens!  Our first year, we raised 112.  They sold like hotcakes.  The next year we did 360 and were sold out again.  Last year, we processed 700 birds and had a waiting list.  I’d like to share our financial plan for this year to demonstrate the profitability of poultry.  (See attached tables.)

As you can see, poultry production with on-farm slaughter exempt from inspection can be a viable enterprise for a farm.  It could be the avenue that brings back a son or daughter to the farm.  It could be the job for a farmwife who tires of working off-farm.  It can be the college payment plan for children.

Is there a market for poultry?
            According to the National Chicken Council, in 2011 the average American consumed 82.9lbs of chicken.
Population of Bismarck in 2011**
5,194,928.5 lbs of chicken
1,298,732.1 chickens
*4lb average
65 farmers

*20,000 bird limit
Population of North Dakota in 2011**
56,764,946 lbs of chicken
14,191,236 chickens
*4lb average
710 farmers

*20,000 bird limit
                        **Figures from the US Census Bureau.

What about food safety?
            As direct-market producers, we have to provide a safe, quality product each and every time to each and every customer.  Our customer base grows solely on word-of-mouth.  Our customers have to have a great product or they won’t tell their friends about us and they won’t buy our product again.   
Our birds are raised entirely by us from their third day of life.  They have a wonderful life, and one bad day.  Each bird is inspected by both my husband, and myself, to make sure it is healthy before it is slaughtered.  Once on the eviscerating table, I visually inspect the exterior of the bird for any abnormalities.  During the evisceration process, I inspect the organs for any abnormalities indicating disease.  Finally, as the birds are packaged, both of us again inspect the birds to make absolutely sure our customers are getting the best possible product.  Our farm is neither state nor federally inspected; instead, we are customer inspected.  Our customers are welcome to visit our farm at any time, including on processing days.  We have taught a number of people how to butcher chickens:  some were potential growers, others were our customers who wanted to know just how their chicken got from the field to their fork.  Many of our customers come to the farm to pick up their chicken, this allows them to see for themselves how their food is raised and processed.    

            Your affirmative recommendation on SB2324 will open the doors for farmers in this state to add or expand a viable enterprise to their operations.  It will allow consumers increased access to fresh-from-the-farm, local food that they are asking for.  North Dakota should not have more onerous requirements than the federal USDA guidelines outlined in P.L. 90-492.

Thank you.

1 comment:

  1. Good work, Annie White! Very proud of you!!! Anna


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