New processing unit comes to Huttonsville

Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick is on hand this week at the Huttonsville State Farm to check out West Virginia’s first mobile processing unit, which will allow growers to process their own poultry, rabbits and fish and potentially boost that portion of the state’s agricultural production.

HUTTONSVILLE — A state-of-the-art processing unit that will serve farmers throughout West Virginia was delivered this week to its new home in Huttonsville.

The mobile unit purchased by the West Virginia Department of Agriculture will allow growers to process their own poultry, rabbits and fish, said Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick.

“It will be positive for agriculture and future production for the state,” Helmick said Tuesday at the Huttonsville State Farm, which is on more than 2,000 acres and is owned by the state Department of Agriculture.

The farm has a large garage where the processing unit can be stored during winter months. During the spring, summer and fall, the unit will make scheduled stops throughout West Virginia, where growers can sign up to process their poultry or small animals.

Helmick said he’s excited that he was able to bring this unit to West Virginia, after hearing from small farmers throughout the state that they would raise and sell more chickens, turkeys and other poultry if they had a more efficient way to process the meat in larger batches.

He and his department spent the past several months studying similar programs in other states, including Vermont, Massachusetts and Kentucky.

“As we diversify our economy, we have to look at other states to see how they do it,” he said.

Helmick added he hopes to see West Virginia empower more entrepreneurs and build a stronger work force, so more state residents can learn how to rely on themselves and create their own jobs.

“We’re moving toward changing the culture, to show that yes, there can be a future for agriculture in West Virginia,” Helmick said.

The $158,000 mobile processing unit was designed in accordance with U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements, and it is based on humane and sanitary standards for handling animals, said Jerry Ours, poultry and environmental specialist for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture.

Ours said the unit includes hot water, a washtub that can hold four to five chickens, a plucker, three sinks and areas that will allow growers to process the meat, cool it and then package it for sale.

Ours said there is a growing demand for organic, fresh chickens, and this unit hopefully will allow that portion of the West Virginia industry to grow — as well as fish and rabbit production.

Helmick is serving out his last few days as commissioner, as he was defeated in November by Republican Kent Leonhardt. The new term begins Tuesday.

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