By ABBY ROGERS
The Union Democrat
It’s time to bring meat processing back to Calaveras and Tuolumne counties.
Or so say a Valley Springs father and son, and other attendees at the Tuolumne County Resource Conservation District board meeting last week.
Michael Kriletich and his son, Sean, approached the board about supporting a Mobile Harvest Facility in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties.
The mobile slaughter unit would dock at a central location, such as a fairground. Ranchers would bring their livestock to the unit. The mobile unit would then take the carcasses to a processing plant, such as the former Budweiser distribution building in San Andreas, which could be converted into a processing facility.
“People want to do it,” Michael said. “There’s a little less driving, a little less stress on the animals.”
The idea is a way for local ranchers to process and wrap meat in the area, as opposed to spending money to do so in other parts of the state. The father-son duo said their idea would help jump start the local economy.
If a person spends $1 at a national chain like Walmart, only about 30 cents of that dollar is re-circulated into the local economy, Sean Kriletich said. However, if someone spends that same dollar at a local store, which is analogous to the Mobile Harvest Facility, about 60 cents of that dollar is put back into the community.
The idea could only succeed if everyone works together — something that hasn’t always happened in the past but could be possible, the Kriletichs and the board acknowledged.
Roadblocks to the idea arose in the form of its price tag and U.S. Department of Agriculture approval.
Board member Maiya Morrison said she was under the impression the USDA wouldn’t approve mobile units — a necessary step if ranchers want to sell their products. The beef would have to be packaged at a USDA-approved cut and wrap facility in order to be sold, Michael said, which would be possible if the plan grew to include the former Budweiser building. That move, however, would significantly increase the cost. A basic trailer needed for the mobile facility would cost about $75,000, Michael said.
Involved parties would be adding at least an additional $1 million to the plan if they decided to purchase and renovate a building.
“But will that be worth it?” Sean Kriletich asked the board. “I tend to think that it will be.”
No clear funding sources have yet been identified. The Kriletichs mentioned applying for federal loans and grants and creating partnerships with local ranchers and agencies. They said they addressed the board because a mobile unit is in line with the board’s strategic goals. And they need the board’s help to move forward with their plans.
“I think everybody at the table agrees we need to do something,” board member Kelli Fraguero said.
The board ultimately decided to form a subcommittee, comprised of conservation district members, Michael and Sean Kriletich, and other interested parties, to look into the idea.
“It’s not really who’s in charge,” Michael said. “It’s just that we’re doing it.”
The board also heard a presentation about the progress of soil testing in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties. The Natural Resources Conservation Service has been testing soil in the counties since June 2006. There are 826,321 acres in the survey area and 503,183 acres, or 61 percent of the total area, have thus far been claimed, or tested, according to a presentation by NRCS soil survey reader Drew Mather.
The conservation service expects to complete the soil survey by fiscal year 2012 and expects to release data by fiscal year 2013. Data will no longer be released in a paper report, but will be available in a customizable online format, Mather said.