Slaughterhouse plan hasn't cut it

Planning, financial hurdles have stalled livestock endeavor

The idea of locating a new USDA-approved slaughterhouse in Jackson County grabbed the attention of livestock producers when the idea was broached in 2012.

But after several widely attended gatherings and what seemed to be a groundswell of support, the movement has slipped into idle.

Will Reishman, who helped lead the movement, said the project needs someone who can shepherd it through the regulatory maze and assure it has the cash flow to survive.

"You're going to have to raise the money up front," said Reishman, a Medford financial adviser. "But after that, it will still probably be two years before any meaningful cash flow occurs, and maybe another year to be profitable."

Rocky Cowie, who along with Reishman, Paul Princeton and John Irwin, pushed the idea forward, said producers generally have too many irons in the fire to stay on top of a lengthy and meticulous process.

"Most livestock producers have their hands full already, and they don't have the financial wherewithal for something like this," Cowie said.

A small-scale operation would take between $2.5 million and $3 million to get up and running, but first would require $25,000 to $35,000 for a feasibility study. Once that happens, then come the dealings with federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Some of the early supporters envisioned the possibility of a cooperative model. However, Reishman said, he thinks the complexities and pitfalls of the project will require a for-profit approach in order to attract investors.

When cattle ranchers have to take their animals east over the Cascades, south over the Siskiyous or to the Willamette Valley for slaughtering, that creates an expense Reishman thinks can be avoided. At the same time he's not endorsing a feedlot mentality.

"I'd like this to be effectively run by forward-thinking people and not simply replicate Modesto in Medford," he said. "This has to be oriented to grass-fed animals, but it doesn't have to be exclusively that way."

Although ranchers avoid the high cost of winter feeding by selling off their herds in the fall, Reishman suggested a local slaughterhouse could entice livestock owners to process the beef a different time of the year.

"A slaughterhouse has to run throughout the year, so there could be incentives," he said.

Enthusiasm is on the ebb, for now, Reishman said.

"The people who have been passionate in the past are missing and we need a catalyst to take it beyond this point," he said.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, friend him on Facebook and read his blog at Edge.

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