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New meats on the menu

Minnetonka, Minn. — Need elk? Minnesota leads the nation in producing elk meat and antlers. The state’s 264 elk farmers are pioneers in the small but growing specialty meats industry.

Farmers are showing interest in other livestock, too, including goat, lamb, bison, rabbit, ostrich, deer, duck, pheasant and free-range poultry, says Lisa Gjersvik, AURI project director in Waseca. “Over the years, we’ve had a lot of inquiries about alternative livestock from producers who want to diversify.”

Good information about specialty livestock production and marketing is hard to come by, Gjersvik maintains. That’s why AURI recently commissioned a detailed study of this emerging food-industry sector.

The $20,000 study, now underway, will outline consumption trends and identify potential markets for specialty meats. It will also survey the current volume of specialty livestock produced in the state and the capacity of Minnesota meat processors to handle these species.

The study should help farmers evaluate the risks and benefits of raising alternative livestock, says Dennis Timmerman, AURI project director in Marshall.

The study will also reveal where farmers can work together to supply markets. “While some specialty meat producers have collaborated through co-ops, the majority go it alone,” Gjersvik says. The industry needs “a concerted effort to bring these producers together to reach a critical mass for supplying the market.”

The study, conducted by DeHaan and Associates, a market research firm based in Kansas City, will be available later this fall.