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Processing plants are already sparse across the country, and the COVID-19 pandemic just further added to the strain they face in terms of processing capacity. With only a handful of companies making up most of the meatpacking industry, there has been an increased focus on establishing smaller processing plants to better serve producers.

Beef plants

Intermountain Packing is planning to open a new meatpacking plant in Idaho Falls, ID, next year. The company recently bought a nine-acre piece of land and plans to build a 50,000-square-foot facility. The $20 million dollar project is expected to create 200 new jobs, and have the capacity to process up to 500 head of cattle and bison a day.

General Manager Bob Stirling told East Idaho News the plant has been much needed in eastern Idaho, and the closure of smaller plants as an effect of the pandemic has only further added to the demand.

“That threw a huge wrench in the industry,” Stirling told the local news outlet. “Many ranchers and feedlot operators didn’t have anywhere to go with their cattle. Live cattle were sitting in feed yards on ranches and then (there were) empty shelves in the grocery store.”

Stirling estimates the facility construction will take around a year, with construction expected to start sometime in September or October.

A beef plant in Fort Pierre, SD, is reopening as U.S. Beef Producers with 14 cattlemen owners. The beef produced by the company is source-verified and processed locally. Interested cattlemen can partner with the plant to discuss options to finish and sell cattle to the company, and become a U.S. Beef retailer.

“U.S. Beef Producers has the advantage of shortening the supply chain, leading to an efficiency that allows us to supply you with a superior quality product, provide the information that consumer’s demand such as our COOL Source Verification on every package, and the convenience of home delivery at a cost below what you will pay in the retail stores,” the company states on its website.

The plant was formerly known as Bad River Pack, and went up for sale last fall. Kim Ulmer, owner of Huron Continental Marketing, purchased the plant last year with 14 other investors from Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota, Ulmer told the Pipestone County Star. Of the investors, five are equity investors who are either cattle producers or feeders, and the other nine are financing partners.

U.S. Beef Producers is also in the process of becoming USDA-certified to sell to grocery stores and restaurants. The company said currently there is a waiting list for people wanting beef from the company.

Lamb plant

The Ranchers’ Lamb Plant of Texas in San Angelo, TX, will be reopened by Double J Meat Packing as Double J Lamb Inc. of Texas. The plant formerly closed in February 2005 and had the capacity to process 1,700-1,800 lambs a day.

Jeff Hasbrouck, whose family runs both Double J Meat Packing and Double J Lamb Feeders in Colorado, told the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI), “We’ll be able to fabricate there, which is one of the main reasons we reached out about buying this plant. With the loss of Mountain States Rosen, we felt like we had to do something for the industry.”

The Mountain States Rosen plant entered bankruptcy earlier this year and was taken over by JBS USA, who plans to turn the former lamb processing plant into a beef processing facility. The transaction has caused an uproar in the sheep industry, with producers saying the acquisition will decimate the lamb industry, as there are few lamb processing plants available.

Colorado Lamb Producers is set to open in Brush, CO, sometime in the near future, but it lacks fabricating facilities.

“We hope to have the plant up and running in two months,” Hasbrouck said. “We’ll have to ramp up, so we’ll probably just be harvesting lambs at first, but will start fabricating soon after that. We knew we didn’t have a lot of time to get this done, so we couldn’t sit back and wait for it to happen.”

ASI Executive Director Peter Orwick commended the lamb plant opening. “This is a bold, innovative step that the Hasbrouck family is taking in looking for a new way to support the American sheep industry.

“I think the entire industry will applaud their efforts and wish them the best of luck in this new endeavor.”

New opportunities

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon (R) has announced the launch of the Wyoming Meat Processing Expansion Grant Program to provide support for meat processing facilities impacted by supply chain disruptions and shutdowns from the COVID-19 pandemic.

A total of $10 million in federal CARES Act funding was appointed to the program to help address local food supply chain issues and meat shortages at the retail level. Wyoming-based processors and nonprofits are able to apply for grants for capacity-related improvements made before the end of the year.

“As anyone who has tried to get a beef cut up this year knows, processing in Wyoming is facing significant bottlenecks in 2020,” Gordon said. “That is why we have set up the Meat Processing Expansion Grant Program, which will help improve our meat processing capacity and ensure our citizens have access to high-quality products.”

More information on the program can be accessed at the Wyoming Department of Agriculture website, wyagric.state.wy.us.

Boulder County in Colorado is inviting comments on a proposed rule that would allow small-scale on-farm meat and poultry processing. Animals would be able to be processed on-farm as long as they were raised there. The new rule could allow the processing of up to 50 poultry or rabbits a day, up to four sheep or goats per day, up to two pigs per day and up to two cattle a week.

The proposed changes “are intended to reduce the barriers farmers face in bringing these products to market,” the Department of Community Planning and Permitting said in a released statement.

For more information on the proposed changes or to submit comments, visit tinyurl.com/y5doeuk6. — Anna Miller, WLJ editor



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