April 29, 2020
This past weekend, U.S. Beef Producers test harvested 13 head of cattle in the old Bad River Pack facility in Ft. Pierre, S.D.
By Codi Vallery-Mills
The slowing of meat processing at some of the nation’s largest packing plants due to COVID-19 has spotlighted the need for smaller regional packing plants and locally owned locker facilities, according to Kim Ulmer of South Dakota. He is one of 13 investors that is pleased to be bringing a meat harvesting locker in Ft. Pierre back online this May.
“We saw it happen in the 80s with the pork industry where the large companies controlled the kill space and over 400,000 hog producers were wiped out. Now in the cattle industry, there are four packers that own over 85 percent of the kill space. Major corporations want producers to become employees and we can’t have that,” Ulmer says.
Once known as Bad River Pack, owned by Don and Mary Ward, the now updated facility is called U.S. Beef Producers and has investors from Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. “We are all cattle producers – either cattle feeders or ranchers – that have invested in this,” Ulmer says.
With help from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, U.S Beef Producers was able to secure a $100,000 loan at a low-interest rate. “When I learned that the state was willing to help us with funding and the process of getting certified to operate it was a “go” from then on and I really started putting the word out,” Ulmer says. “I can’t say enough how important it was for the state to be involved. It is important to give credit to where credit is due and Kyle Peters with Economic Development and David Bonde with Ft. Pierre Economic Development have been very helpful. It is important to know this system and team in place in South Dakota really want to provide options to producers.”
He says understanding and meeting the regulations in place has been the toughest challenge. “I can see why more cattle producers don’t do this. The manual of requirements is 503 pages long. I’m glad the people that wrote the manual were thorough but if at any point in this they could have offered a couple of hours of coaching to us that would have been helpful.”
This past weekend the plant just went through a successful test run of 13 head. The USDA will reinspect May 1 and by June 1 the plant should have federal inspection criteria in place.
“We have a goal of harvesting 35 head a week by August 1. We want to get to 70 head a week but we will need to add on cooler space first,” Ulmer says.
The locker plant has a three-legged approach to how the facility will harvest and market the cattle. First, the locker will be providing a custom harvest for cattle producers wanting to butcher their own livestock. Second, the initial investors and other cattle producers wanting to harvest and market their beef can do so under the U.S. Beef Producers label direct to households. Third, the U.S. Beef Producers will be pursuing supplying their country of origin, source-verified labeled beef in grocery stores. Currently, the facility is looking for cattle producers in each South Dakota county to act as retail sale reps to help get U.S. Beef Producer labeled meat in stores, restaurants and schools.
“This year has proven that the big four meatpackers can’t continue to handle everything. We want to take this model of small, clean processing plants that are producer-owned and duplicate them all over the country. This is going to be “producer to plate”. Traditionally getting meat to the retail level has been a five-step process. Now it is less with cattlemen and women able to harvest cattle and market them direct,” Ulmer says,