The government is investing tens of thousands of dollars into a pilot project that could finally give local ranchers a competitive edge.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently awarded Curry County $50,000 to write a business plan for a USDA-approved meat-packing plant.
Early stage plans call for a mobile unit that would drive to a rancher's location for small-scale butchering.
Presently only three USDA meat facilities operate in Oregon, said Susan Brown, executive director of Curry County Economic & Community Development.
Many ranchers sell meat on the hoof to processors out of state for a low return.
"They should be able to get more dollar per pound ... rather than ship (them alive) as far as Denver and even Virginia," Brown said.
Although it's a Curry County project, its impact will be regional.
"Coos County is definitely going to benefit," Brown she said.
Officials and local industry leaders view a USDA processor as key to strengthening the local food system.
Curry County has more than 250 family farms.
"We have discovered the majority of our food products are leaving our region, taking valuable dollars with them," says a press release from Curry County Economic & Community Development.
The project, which is also being funded with a $45,000 local matching grant, will identify supply and demand and develop a marketing plan to sell and distribute products.
The idea is to create a business model that can be replicated in rural communities throughout the nation, Brown said.
She said early estimates for a mobile unit peg the cost at around $400,000. A brick-and-motor facility would cost between $1 and $2 million.
Money would come from private investment.
Several mobile slaughtering facilities operate locally, but they are only state-approved. A USDA plant would allow ranchers to sell to regional markets, restaurants and other re-sellers, while creating jobs.
"We're talking family-wage jobs," she said.
Business Editor Nate Traylor can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 236; or at firstname.lastname@example.org.