Food shortages are being reported across the nation. With rising costs and backed-up production, farmers are struggling to meet consumer needs.
In the state of Missouri alone, beef production is up nineteen percent from last year, poultry is up two percent from last year, and egg production alone is up three percent. Despite this, small family farms are finding it difficult to meet these growing needs. The Epoch Times was able to speak with the owner of Twisted Ash Farm in Foristell, Missouri, and he had plenty to say on the subject.
“Processing or butcher appointments are backlogged for 6 months or more, limiting the ability for small farms to get their products to market. I used to be able to schedule processing dates with four weeks notice or less and now I have to make those appointments six months in advance or more with exception to some butchers we have relationships with that fit us in as things get canceled. My business can’t grow because of the bottleneck of processing availability. The government regulations, good or bad, really limit our ability to look at other options. For example, there are more custom processing facilities than inspected facilities. I can’t sell retail packages unless it’s inspected. Custom processing requires big purchases like half beef or half hog to be exempt from inspection. The processing is a huge bottleneck to meat supply from small farms. Large farms don’t have to depend on these small processing plants because they use large commercial plants like JBL and have contracts.”
When asked about his frustrations, he said, “The only thing worse would be no processing at all. We have plenty of customers but we don’t have the ability to meet the demand even though we have plenty of market animals ready for the butcher. It’s also caused a lot more planning in advance, creating more work for us to make sure we secure processing dates and manage to those. We have processing dates right now for animals that haven’t even been born yet.”
He went on to explain the situation in more detail, “The pandemic has brought people back to the farm-to-table experience and small farmers during the pandemic had a boom because of meat shortages in stores, as long as you planned out your dates six months [in advance]. It’s super expensive to open up a processing plant that meets USDA guidelines. We looked into putting a processing plant on our farm to take control of our own process but it didn’t take long looking at all the requirements to realize that it was an investment risk we didn’t want to get into and not cost feasible. The other thing to consider is that the market could go back to what it was pre-pandemic. If that happens, there will be a lot of processors going out of business when the demand is gone. That’s one of the big risks.”
Despite this farmer’s concerns, he noted that “Last year was our best year ever. This year started to look like it could beat last year. We recently have had some changes in our marketing, websites, and other factors related to that which we are troubleshooting. The last two months have been rough for us. We hope to be back to normal soon. This is what’s stressful, if we have issues that cause our sales to drop then we can’t honor those processing dates we secured six months in advance. We use to sell the animals first then get the processing date. That has completely reversed.”
Because of the uncertainty of scheduling processing before some livestock are even born, many small farmers are pushing for customers to buy in bulk, offering deals on a half of a cow or hog. He described the ups and downs that come with this, “ It’s an emotional rollercoaster ride. It’s definitely harder but still manageable. [We] just don’t expect to grow because we are bottlenecked to the current system.”
In regards to the effects of inflation, he noted how Twisted Ash Farm has currently assumed responsibility for the costs. “Inflation is hitting us hard. Fortunately, because I am a small farmer I also have a full-time job on top of it. We have tried not to raise our prices much which means we are absorbing the inflation for right now. At some point we hope things get back to normal, in the next six months, but if they don’t we will be forced to make price adjustments.”
Despite this, they continue to farm. “My grandfather had a farm, and as a kid I loved visiting it and working on it. It’s been a passion of mine forever.”
When asked if he had anything he wanted people across the United States to know about his work, he said, “We moved to our small farm about seven years ago so we could have more control of what’s in our food. We grew our food humanely, butchered at home, and [were] proud that our plate was full of something we provided that was wholesome and without chemicals. I think that’s the biggest advantage. We later were asked by friends and family if they could get in on it and then we opened up to the public. Grocery stores are competing for your business mostly by price. That means every efficiency is considered including some I don’t care for, like growth hormone use and antibiotic use. I also don’t care for nitrogen to make meat look red. We don’t even use antibiotics because our animals don’t get sick because they are not confined unnaturally. Disease is caused by dirty conditions. I would say all farms are different. Get to know a farmer that matches your value system.”