Profitable Animal Welfare

There are some fast-food chains that have updated their policies to reflect society’s need and demand for products made with sustainable, humanly treated, and organic methods and ingredients. Sonic is on this list.

“Sonic Corporation has updated its animal welfare policy to include provisions that affect its egg and pork supply chain. As part of the policy, Sonic is asking its suppliers to focus on training and auditing in order to have a successful animal welfare program. “

This is a measure that may become fashionable as financial pressure is placed on chains by the ever-present activists groups who are buying up stock in the firms they want to change. According to Quick Service Restaurant’s site

“Last week, the HSUS announced that it was purchasing stock in QSR Jack in the Box and casual-dining hybrid Steak ‘N Shake in order to influence their animal welfare policies.”

This news will make an impact, at some point, in how breeding of hogs, chickens, cattle and sheep is carried out. If the public is willing to pay for products that are produced in ways that make it easier for them to *ahem* digest, breeders may as well embrace some of the changes. Most sectors of the Chicken Industry are already regulated and cross-checked to the liking of many activists organizations. But, one group’s good is another group’s not god enough. So, we can expect more initiatives like this latest. It’s just like the HSUS to put it’s money where our mouths are, they hold a stake in 38 food-related companies.  They are:

Bob Evans

Brinker International

Burger King Holdings Inc.

Career Education Corp. (Le Cordon Bleu)

Carnival Corporation

Cal-Maine Foods Inc

Campbell Soup

The Cheesecake Factory

ConAgra Foods Inc.

Costco Wholesale Corp

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store

Denny’s Corp.

DineEquity Inc.

Domino’s Pizza Inc.

Einstein Noah Restaurant Group

General Mills, Inc.

Hain Celestial Group (Plainville Turkey Farm)

Jack in the Box

Kellogg’s

Kraft Foods, Inc.

Krispy Kreme

Kroger Co.

McDonald’s Corp.

P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Inc.

Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd.

Ruddick Corp (Harris Teeter)

Safeway Inc.

Sara Lee

Smithfield Foods Inc.

Sonic Corp.

The Steak n Shake Co.

Tasty Baking Company

Tim Horton’s, Inc.

Tyson Foods Inc.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Wendy’s/Arby’s Group Inc.

Winn-Dixie

It Pays to Focus

A local meat company is carving a niche for itself by focusing on small farms and the treatment of animals.

Instead of looking at the number of pigs in an operation, the owners of Heritage Acres dwell more on how the hogs are raised.

The business is growing its business by marketing with buzz words like sustainability. The group also supports local farmers and promotes its regional roots.

“[As of] last week we processed nearly 2,800 hogs here per week,” said Russ Kremer, the businesses president.  “[When we] first started it was a pickup load at a time, 10 or 11 hogs per week.”

In the mid-90’s,  a handful of farmers started working together in Osage County Missouri, Russ Kremer was one of them.

“I’d be out of business by now had it not been for an opportunity like this,” Kremer said.

Heritage Acres though found its niche marketing to customers who like to think their pork had a happy life before it wound up on the plate, or who want a more organic product.

“We put in place some very rigid standards on how we feed them, what type of breeding their from, and how they’re treated,” said Kremer.

Some of the farmers for the group have more conventional farms though.  Still, those producers are supposed to work towards the group’s overall goals.

The Executive Director of the Missouri Pork Association, Don Nikodim, says the growing business doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with more conventional methods.  For example, he says raising hogs indoors can better protect the animals from the elements. And modern agriculture is needed.

“In terms of being able to feed the people of this world, tends to be growing, to do it with yesterday’s technology just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” said Nikodim. “There’s not too many other businesses or professions that would continue to want to move backwards.  We want to move forwards and use technology that allows us to be successful. That’s what we see modern agriculture doing.”

“We believe small farmers like this can feed the world,” said Kremer.

In Pleasant Hope, the operation means about 150 people have a job.  Kremer says those are workers that would not likely be around if the former operator continued to run the place on its own. And Kremer says smaller Missouri farmers can also fetch higher prices for pigs raised with less confinement, more comfort, and then sold to the company.

“Our farmers in our system, on the average made nearly 50 dollars more per hog than their commodity neighbor,” Kremer said.

The costs are high though, Kremer says the Pleasant Hope processing plant isn’t making a profit yet.  Still, the group plans to grow it’s operation in Missouri and focus even more on standing out in the pork industry.

According to Kremer, the group is also a leading pork supplier for Chipotle.  The group also does business with Whole Foods.

Hog Breeding Downturn

Smithfield Foods Inc., the world’s largest pork processor, plans to close an Iowa meat plant that was among the company’s oldest and most inefficient. The shutdown will affect 1,450 workers.

The John Morrell & Co. facility in Sioux City, Iowa, will close on April 20 and shift some pork production to other locations, the Smithfield, Va.-based company said today a statement. The plant slaughtered about 13,000 hogs a day, according to Keira Ullrich, a Smithfield spokeswoman.

Slaughterhouses in Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska will expand processing rates to make up for some of the lost meat output without adding any jobs, Smithfield said.

“We recognize that layoffs and plant closings are difficult for everyone concerned,” Joseph B. Sebring, the president of John Morrell, said in the statement. “At the same time, we believe this is a necessary business decision. The Sioux City plant is one of the oldest, most outdated and least-efficient plants in the Smithfield system.”

Smithfield reported a net loss of $26.4 million in its fiscal second quarter. The company slashed its hog-breeding herd by 13 percent and said it may produce 2.2 million fewer hogs annually by 2011.

What to Do With Cobs?

Burn them. Ethanol production has risen over the years and so has the industry’s demand for corn and corn by-products. AgriNews writer Heather Thorstensen reports that

“Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company in Benson is using approximately 70 tons of corn cobs, wood and glycerin per day in their gasifier. They burn the gas for steam, which is used as a heat source to make ethanol.

The company hopes to eventually reach 300 tons of biomass per day, which would replace 90 percent of the natural gas they use with renewable sources. Currently, they’re replacing 20 percent.”

Now, getting the cobs takes work. Cobs are collected with special equipment. One type of cob harvester uses a wagon pulled behind the combine. Another type keeps grain separated from cobs in a hopper on top of the combine. Either way, these methods don’t require extra passes down the field.

Here’s some of the newest equipment in use for just this purpose:

Vermeer offers a pull type cob collection wagon the enables farmers to harvest both corn and cobs (separately and simultaneously in one pass) . Or, once cobs are collected by whatever method, they can be dumped on a pile to be stored until delivered to the ethanol plant. Finally, Case IH has an “extremely prototype” biomass cart. It’s designed to collect grain and cob which would then be run through a separator.

With more plants coming online to take cobs in (in Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based Poet is readying production of a new cellulosic ethanol plant that uses a corn waste product corn cobs – rather than corn itself – to make the biofuel.) it looks like the market for this once disposed of, less thought of debris will rise. Here’s where to find the equipment needed to take part in this harvest:

Case IH
700 State St.
Racine, WI 53404
877/422-7344
www.caseih.com/na

Claas of America, Inc.
Box 45031
8401 S. 132nd St.
Omaha, NE 68145
402/861-1000
www.claasofamerica.com

Demco Mfg.
Box 189
4010 320th St.
Boyden, IA 51234
800/543-3626
www.demco-products.com

Fantini North America
40463 261st Ave.
Le Center MN 56057
507/526-5522
www.fantininorthamerica.com

Iowa State University
Stuart Birrell
Ag & Biosystems Engineering
208 Davidson Hall
Ames, IA 50011
515/294-2874
sbirrell@iastate.edu

John Deere
Contact your local John
Deere dealer.
www.johndeere.ag.com

Machinery Link
1600 Genessee St.
Suite 700
Kansas City, MO 64102
888/272-3323
www.machinerylink.com

POET Biorefining – Emmetsburg
4724 380th St.
Emmetsburg, IA 50536
712/852-8700
www.projectliberty.com

Redekop Mfg. Ltd.
Box 178A
RR#4, Hwy 16 West
Saskatoon, SK S7K 3J7
Canada
866/733-3567
www.redekopmfg.com

Trail King
2130 3rd Ave. NW
West Fargo, ND 58078
800/762-5557
www.trailking.com

Unverferth Mfg. Company, Inc.
Box 357
18107 U.S. 224 West
Kalida, OH 45853
800/322-6301
www.unverferth.com

Vermeer Corporation
Box 200
1210 Vermeer Road East
Pella, IA 50219
641/628-3141
www.vermeer.com

Wildcat Mfg.
Box 1100
Freeman, SD 57029
800/627-3954
www.wildcatmfg.com

A Report from The U.S. Ag Associates Conference in Houston

This article was written by AgWired’s Joanna Schroeder.

Case IH Features “Efficiency” During AG CONNECT

CashIH2I spent quite a bit of time in the Case IH booth during AG CONNECT Expo last week – AgriTalk broadcast live one day and the next AgDay TV taped its show. However, my education didn’t end there. I spent a few minutes learning about Case IH’s dedication to helping farmers gain more efficiency from John Bohnker.

“A lot of farming is based upon efficiency. We’ve got to get more efficient operations. There are fewer farmers farming more acres. So we deal a lot with efficiency. If you look at our combines, we’re getting bigger and bigger combines. Bigger heads, wider operations, so we can do more operations with less manpower and get the process done faster,” said Bohnker.

CaseIH3Case IH is focusing strongly on its CDT technology where they are “doing a better job of finding the sweetspot” with energy efficiency. “We’re doing a better job of getting the energy to the ground, power to the ground where we need it,” said Bohnker.

I asked Bohnker about the growing concerns over sustainability and profitability and he stressed that they have to go together. “Farmers are really the truest green people on the earth. They have to earn a living on the land, and long-term they have to keep the farm economical but they understand the environment is the right place.”

The company is developing some new equipment that pares sustainability and profitability together, in particular, a prototype baler that is being designed to pick up corn cobs and stover for cellulosic ethanol production. By enabling the farmer to harvest this biomass, he can get more revenue off the same amount of land. The equipment is not quite ready for production yet, but it’s close; however, their other equipment is in the pipeline and ready to go for the upcoming planting season.

Minnesota Forage Days

“Equipped for Success” is the theme for the 2010 Minnesota Forage Days offered at five locations in Minnesota the week of February 8-12. The program is co-sponsored by University of Minnesota Extension and the Midwest Forage Association.

Dates and locations are:

  • Feb. 8 – Detroit Lakes Holiday Inn
  • Feb. 9 – Cromwell Pavilion
  • Feb. 10 – Avon Joseph’s Restaurant
  • Feb. 11 – Lamberton SWROC
  • Feb. 12 – Rochester UCR Heintz Center

Dan Undersander, University of Wisconsin Extension Agronomist and Professor, is the featured speaker at all five meetings. Undersander, an internationally-renowned St. Cloud native and U-M graduate, will share his extensive research and practical experience with several key aspects of profitable forage management. He will discuss his pioneering methods to consistently conserve high-quality forage via equipment strategies to speed hay and haylage curing in the field. Undersander will also address research-based seeding date recommendations for perennial legume and grass forages, and methods to reduce ash continuation in stored forage.

Please pre-register by January 29 to receive a discount (except Cromwell). 2010 MFA members pay only $15 if you pre-register by Jan. 29, and $20 on-site at the Feb. 8 and 10-12 meetings. On-site check-in/registration for all meetings opens at 9:30 AM, with presentations from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM.

Registration includes attendance, lunch, refreshments, proceedings, and several other publications/handouts. Detailed meeting brochures and registration forms are available on-line at www.extension.umn.edu/forages and www.midwestforage.org. Please pre-register by mail, 651-484-3888, or midwestforage@comcast.net.