John & Julie Rice of JJR Farm face an uphill battle trying to produce certified organic meat & eggs in central Missouri. There are no reliable local sources for organic grains; John’s often had to drive to Kansas or Iowa to get his bulk feed (our bagged feed is shipped in from Wisconsin). The only organic-certified slaughterhouse is in Illinois, a 600-mile round-trip every time they have to process an animal for legal sale as organic (the only way to justify the price of organic feed). 1200 miles, actually, one trip to drop the animal(s) off and one to pick up the meat once it’s ready. Unfortunately, the prices they can get for local organic meat & eggs don’t really relate to the cost of production and certification. Now, after seven years of organic production for local sales, they’re calling it quits.In their own words, emailed to me with permission to quote:
It boils down to 15 dollar bu organic corn, 1200 dollar ton organic soybean meal and 600 mile round trip to process meat. By the time we paid that there was nothing for us and we could not raise prices again. We sold all the chickens and only kept a few hogs. We will concentrate on selling cattle in conventional sale barns…
Organic feed prices have increased three fold since we got into organics in 2005 and we sure never increased our prices by 3 times. Late last summer we had to increase our wholesale prices to our stores and all but one said “too much” Our people won’t pay that. About all we had left was the (farmers) market and that wasn’t working out… If you want to mention this on your blog, go for it.
That pretty much says it all. I’ve gotten to be friends with them through market and multiple visits to their farm including sourcing our own feeder pigs from them the past few years. John was pretty passionate about the benefits of organic, having been a conventional farmer beforehand; he told hair-raising stories about the conventional system he wanted out of. But ethics and principles mean squat if you can’t make a meaningful income enacting them, and they’ve decided they can’t in this region with direct sales of farm-raised organic meat & eggs.
That’s the economic reality of local foods; if not enough people choose to pay what it takes to keep independent (especially organic) farms going, those farms won’t last.
We’ll miss JJR in our farming community, and hope they find their new choices more relaxing and beneficial for their hard-working lives.