Organic poultry growers need to know obligations, scientists say

Friday, March 20, 2009
Leon Duncan (left), Carroll County Extension Service staff chair, and Richard Ims, sales and production manager for Little Portion Monastery Farm, at the Small Farms Poultry Workshop at the Carroll County Fairgrounds. Photo submitted

Berryville -- Organic and pasture flock poultry is becoming more popular as a choice for consumers and more attractive as an endeavor for small-operation growers, but the growers need to be aware of many of the same obligations that the major companies face as well as their own unique issues. That was the key message for about 50 growers Saturday, March 14, from University of Arkansas food and poultry scientists.

The U of A System's Division of Agriculture sponsored an all-day Small Farms Poultry Workshop at the Carroll County Fairgrounds. The idea to hold the event was largely the brainchild of Leon Duncan, Carroll County staff chair for the Cooperative Extension Service, and Richard Ims, sales and production manager of Little Portion Monastery Farm, a small poultry processing operation near Berryville that specializes in pasture-raised chickens marketed in northwest Arkansas.

Following the workshop presentations, the farmers began discussing details of organizing an area poultry growers association that would meet occasionally to review common problems and issues.

The faculty members provided expertise for the session through a grant recently awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the UA as the lead institution for a three-year $600,000 project by 13 scientists from five universities to conduct food safety research in pasture-raised and organic poultry. Steven C. Ricke, director of the U of A Center for Food Safety; Phil Crandall, U of A Department of Food Science, and Frank Jones, a U of A Center of Excellence for Poultry Science Extension specialist, are the lead project directors of this grant.

Small processors are exempt from USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service regulations that require the larger processors to be subject to daily inspections from in-house federal inspectors. Steve Seideman, U of A Extension food processing specialist, warned the growers that they are still subject to FSIS rules that can result in recall of products that are found to have problems.

The small growers as well as the larger processors are also covered by the same rules that regulate what can be said on a product label. "Use only labeling claims that you can substantiate and that can actually grow your business," Seideman advised.

Crandall, a professor of food science, told the growers although organic poultry is more expensive than conventionally processed poultry, it can offer the growers a unique niche and less competition,

"Organic products demand a premium price, so the consumer must be convinced of extra value," Crandall said. Organic poultry is considered to be a "gateway" food to other organic products. Crandall cited statistics showing that the organic foods market in the United States grew by 132 percent from 2002 to 2007. The rate is expected to go down in coming years but should still maintain about a 7 percent annual rate of increase through 2012, he said.

Dustan Clark, a Division of Agriculture Extension poultry veterinarian, offered advice on how to protect poultry on small farms from disease through control of exposure and raising their resistance levels. Jon Moyle, a doctoral candidate in the UA poultry science department, discussed poultry breeding techniques for small flocks.

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