By nature, farmers and ranchers are an entrepreneurial bunch. So it’s not surprising that when a group of Washington cattlemen wanted to bypass the middleman and market their beef they formed a cooperative and have built their own slaughter plant.

The $3 million slaughter facility – financed by the ranchers, local food interests and a state-backed loan – opened last month. The co-op says it will more than break even if it processes the equivalent of 15 head a day.

The Cattle Producers of Washington formed in 2004. Over the years the co-op grew to 80 members. Though the idea of marketing their own product was popular, they had difficulty finding facilities that would handle the relatively small volume the members could produce at any specific time.

In 2009 the co-op began pursuing the construction of its own slaughter plant. With the help of the Lincoln County Economic Development Corp., the Washington Community Economic Revitalization Board and Whitworth University, the co-op began planning the facility and drafting a marketing plan.

Construction finally began in January, and the co-op’s slaughter house opened in Odessa Aug. 23. In addition to beef, the plant will process hogs, sheep and goats.

The cooperative created a marketing arm, Empire Ranches, that helps ranchers sell their meat.

Jeff Schmidt, a director of the co-op, said without the slaughter facility, members had to let somebody else buy the cattle. Now, members will be able to process them at their federally inspected plant, market them and collect the retail price.

Co-op members are optimistic about their chances. Many say the facility will allow them to expand their operations. They also hope the facility will provide opportunities for younger producers with smaller herds.

They also believe that if the Cattle Producers of Washington facility is successful it will serve as a model for other small-scale processors.

We hope so. Farmers and ranchers make more money when they are able to eliminate the middlemen and market directly to consumers.

Small-scale processing facilities fill a niche for producers and provide opportunities for economic growth in rural communities. These types of efforts must be encouraged. We hope others follow the CPoW example.

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