Feasibility of slaughterhouse to be studied

Posted: Tuesday, March 26, 2002

The Kenai Peninsula could become a much more dangerous place to be a cow, goat, sheep or even a buffalo if the Kenai Peninsula Resource Conservation and Development District has anything to say about it.

The district was recently notified that it is in line to receive a $21,500 grant to complete a livestock slaughterhouse feasibility study. The grant, awarded by the Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development, is the first step in determining if a slaughterhouse on the peninsula could be economically and logistically feasible.

According to Mark Weatherstone, who is with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and coordinator of the development district, the idea for a peninsula slaughterhouse came about because of the limitations ranchers face in getting peninsula meats to market.

"We were approached about two years ago by the Kenai Peninsula Farm Bureau, then other industry groups came on board. It is something the industry has a need to take a look at," he said.

Weatherstone noted that currently, the only option is to transport livestock off the peninsula for processing, causing hassles for ranchers.

"Right now the livestock industry is hindered by the high transportation costs," he said. It makes it difficult for ranchers to profit on livestock if animals must be shipped to places like the Matanuska Valley for slaughter, he said.

While the grant does not provide money to build a permanent facility, the money will help determine if a slaughterhouse could work on the peninsula. Weatherstone said he's not sure which kinds of animals would be most likely looked at as potential targets. That's what the grant is for, he said.

"It starts the process for determining the feasibility of a slaughterhouse. We'll primarily be looking at cattle, possibly hogs or maybe poultry," he said.

Weatherstone wasn't sure exactly what type of facility would most likely be proposed.

"There's several different options. One might be to have a permanent facility, or maybe a mobile one might be feasible. We'll look at the costs, look at operational scenarios, things like that," he said.

If it's determined a slaughterhouse is feasible, it would then be up to a private industry group to take over the idea.

"If it's feasible, somebody will have to step in," Weatherstone said.

He speculated that if the idea does come to fruition, it could have a big impact on the peninsula's livestock industry.

"You'd see existing ranchers possibly increase herd sizes," he said, noting that could have a positive effect on local economies.

Development district director Deb Holle said the study likely will look at how a slaughterhouse could help small, local operations.

"There's a lot of people who have a few animals, but have to take them to the Matanuska Valley. This could really be wonderful for small operators, local folks," Holle said. She said she envisioned a small, portable facility people with small livestock operations could use to process their meat.

However, the study is necessary to determine exactly the type of facility that would best match existing needs with the potential for growth.

"That's a part of what we'll look at. We'll hire a consultant who will do the research and get the information we need. We feel there's a lot of need out there," she said.

Holle said the type of facility the district has in mind is nothing like the proposal to raise thousands of hogs each year on the peninsula.

"This would really help out the small farming operations. It doesn't have anything to do with that (hog farm proposal)," she said. More likely, it would help people raising small numbers of animals. Holle said if a facility existed here, people would be able to raise just a few animals for themselves.

She said she had thought of possibly trying to raise a buffalo, but that it would be impossible if she had to transport the animal to the valley.

"I'm not going to go out and buy a trailer just for one buffalo," she said.

Once the district hires a consultant, research will be conducted and then recommendations will be given to the district. If the study determines a slaughterhouse would be feasible, it would then be up to a private business to make the idea happen.

"Somebody would have to take it and run with it after that," she said.

Holle said she expected the feasibility study would be completed sometime in the fall.

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