Bartels Packing, Inc. in Eugene, OR, closed suddenly on March 16. The beef slaughter and packing facilities are owned by fourth generation family members Chris and Kandi Bartels. The family had been a presence in the livestock and meatpacking business since 1898 and most recently was focused on grass-fed natural beef and certified organic beef sold under the Bartels Farms name.
Employees at the harvest and packing facilities were notified of the closing in a memo from Chris stating, “As you may know, the recent performance of the company has been disappointing. We have experienced significant difficulties over the past several months which have caused our business to falter, including, among other things, a continuing decline in sales, accumulation of finished goods, inventory, the recent and unexpected loss of one of our largest customers, the coming due of our line of credit and a shortage of sufficient working capital necessary to operate as a viable business.”
He went on to explain that the loss of the large customer “further exasperated our working capital issues, rendering our business significantly less desirable to loan to or to purchase.”
Chris told employees that attempts to save the business and jobs were pursued, but ultimately a qualified buyer could not be found. He noted that the last interested buyer backed out the week of March 12.
Still addressing employees, Chris wrote, “We regret that under the circumstances we were not able to provide you with advance notice of the closings. We believed that an earlier notice would have jeopardized our ongoing efforts and precluded us from obtaining new business and finding new financing, as well as our efforts to negotiate and close the sale.”
On March 21, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service posted a notice explaining that it will assist ranchers who may have claims against Bartels Packing. Farmers and ranchers owed for livestock sold to Bartels Packing should contact USDA’s Packers & Stockyards Division, Western Regional Office at 303-375-4240 for assistance in filing bond claims and packer trust claims, USDA said.
The agency release explained that Packer Trust claims must be filed within 30 days from date payment was due and bond claims must be filed within 60 days of the date of the sales transaction. It is important that producers contact USDA as soon as possible to ensure filing deadlines are met.
WLJ contacted former Oregon Cattlemen’s Association President Bill Hoyt to ask if the closing of this plant would impact other producers of grass-fed or natural beef in the area. He said livestock produces have other options with five small to medium packing plants between the Portland and Eugene metro areas. He said depending on where you establish a starting point all of them are within 80 to 100 miles of those metro areas. Plants are in Salem, Brownsville, Eugene, Dayton and Canby. “There is lots of opportunity, but sometimes maybe not as convenient,” Hoyt said.
Beyond the loss of processing opportunities, Hoyt said there will also be a loss at the auction barns. Noting that a lot of the cattle being processed by Bartels Packing, Inc. were dairy cattle, he said a dairy producer told him it also means one less seat at the livestock auctions.
“Bartels will not be sitting in that seat,” Hoyt said. “That’s a negative and that’s too bad. None of us like to see that. The hand in the air that would have potentially been competing for your cow is not going to be there now. The dairyman brought that up to me and I agree.”
Finally, in the letter terminating employees, Chris wrote, “We would like to extend to you our sincere gratitude and thanks for your faithful and loyal service over the years. Many of you have been with us for years and it is truly heartbreaking that we’re unable to continue operating.”
According to local reports, approximately 140 employees were laid off. The official notice said some employees may be temporarily rehired to assist with liquidating the business.
— Rae Price, WLJ editor