Help is on the way for local meat processing facilities in Montana, which could help reduce consolidation in the meat packing industry.
Montana ranchers say consolidation is the reason they’re now getting a smaller share of the consumer dollar than ever, despite record beef prices.
They say more local treatment facilities could make a difference.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., announced that $7.8 million in U.S. bailout funds have been secured for 30 small agricultural businesses across the state, including 17 existing meat processing projects as well as resources for three new facilities, including an abattoir under construction here in Billings.
Blue Creek Marbled Meat Co. in Billings will receive $300,000 for a new slaughterhouse under construction.
Big Sky Process, LLC in Pray will receive $150,000 for a new retail and slaughterhouse facility.
Ranch House Meats & Sausage Company processes beef from Pure Montana Meats, the company’s slaughterhouse in Miles City.
Pure Montana will receive a grant of $200,000.
“It’s a low-margin business like most farming businesses,” said Shane Flowers, owner of Pure Montana Meats. “So any chance you have of increasing capacity and providing more opportunities for the state of Montana is a great opportunity.”
Flowers owns Project Meats which operates Ranch House outside of Shepherd and in Billings, as well as Pure Montana Meats in Miles City.
He says it’s good that the Montana Meat Processors Association lists more than 60 meat plants and that at least three new ones will process meat.
“The consumer gets the best value every day,” Flowers said. “Competition is a good thing.”
He says having more small businesses can affect competition in the meatpacking industry.
And he also says that what Tester describes as consolidation in the packing industry is impacting all businesses in the beef industry, but most affects ranchers the most.
“Only four big companies are making money,” said Annika Charter-Williams, a rancher north of Billings. “It’s not the farmers and ranchers.”
“They basically stopped enforcing one of those monopoly laws,” rancher Steve Charter said of the lack of enforcement of the 1921 Packers and Stockyards Act.
In a story that aired last month, Charter and his daughter talked about the low price they receive for their cattle.
According to the USDA, JBS, Cargill, National Beef and Tyson control 85% of the industry.
“Literally, the CEOs of these four companies could go to a golf course and figure out what they’re going to pay for the beef,” Tester said.
A labor shortage also hampers the competitiveness of many small processors.
“If we don’t have the manpower, we could put all the square footage we want in the world and it won’t benefit us in the long run,” Flowers said.
From Senator Tester’s desk, the list of USDA-recommended recipients who will receive ARPA funds include:
New USDA certified meat processing facilities:
· $150,000 for Big Sky Processing, LLC (pray): New USDA Retail/Slaughterhouse in Central Montana
· $300,000 for Blue Creek Marbled Meat Co (Billings): New meat slaughter facility under construction for state/USDA inspection
· $450,000 for Nguyen Holdings, Inc dba M&S Meats (Rollins): New USDA Inspected Meat Processing Facility; Existing retail
Meat processing prices:
· $150,000 for Bear Paw Meat (Havre): Expansion, renovations to state-inspected slaughter floor to increase capacity
· $30,286 for BMB Ventures, LLC dba Rawhide Meats (White Sulfur Springs): Vacuum expansion and portioning filling equipment. State inspected, scheduled for USDA inspection.
· $140,000 for Butcher Block specialties (Miles City): Expansion, Custom Exempt Meat Processing Equipment Upgrades
· $450,000 for Eastern Montana Meats, LLC (Sidney): Expansion, Upgrades to USDA Inspected Meat Processing Equipment
· $450,000 for Hamilton Packing Company (Hamilton): Expansion, upgrades to state-inspected meat processing equipment, existing retail
· $150,000 for Montana Meats (Big Timber): Expansion of USDA inspected retail storefront at Pioneer Meats, Inc
· $450,000 for OCC Legacy Cuts (Ekalaka): Expansion, USDA Certified/Organic Meat Processing Facility
· $150,000 for Old Salt Co-op (Helena): Direct-to-consumer meat marketing + proposed slaughter facility
· $45,000 for Pekovitch Meats LLC (Malta): Expansion, Custom Exempt Meat Processing Equipment Upgrades
· $150,000 for Prairie Meats LLC (Lothair): Expansion, Custom Exempt Meat Processing Equipment Upgrades
· $150,000 for Primitive Meats LLC (Worden): Expansion, Custom Exempt Meat Processing Equipment Upgrades
· $200,000 for Pure Montana meats (Miles City): Expansion, Upgrades to USDA Inspected Meat Processing Equipment
· $102,945 for S Ranch Meats, LLC (Hardin): Expansion, Upgrades to USDA Inspected Meat Processing Equipment
· $150,000 for Superior Meats, Inc. (Superior): Automated packaging equipment and composting system, state inspected
General Agriculture Awards:
· $400,000 for Big Sandy Organics (Big Sandy): Expansion of the food manufacturing plant
· $277,972 for Commercial Lynks Inc. (Book): Equipment for expanding, cleaning legume crops, sorting, splitting and bagging
· $450,000 for Evergood Commodities Ltd (Inverness): New, installation of a pea and lentil splitting plant
· $450,000 for IND HEMP, LLC (Fort Benton): Expansion, hemp grain and hemp fiber processing line
· $79,300 for Lake County Community Development Corporation (Ronan): Provide value-added Montana-sourced products for Montana schools
· $300,000 for Madison Food Park LLC (Great Falls): New Phase 1 Cheese Manufacturing and Processing Facility
· $150,000 for gluten-free processors in Montana (Belgrade): Extension, equipment to increase the performance of the processing line
· $450,000 for Montana Milling (Great Falls/Conrad): Protein Isolate Expansion, Dehulling, Decortication and Extraction
· $450,000 for Montana Premier Protein (Billings): New pulse milling facility
· $450,000 for Sidney Sugars Inc. (Sidney): New natural gas boiler conversion
· $450,000 for The Redwood Group (Shelby): New Import/Export Facility at Port of Northern Montana
· $149,900 for Timeless Seeds, Inc. (Ulm): Food processing, equipment upgrade to maintain food safety certification
· $147,015 for the Western Montana Growers Cooperative (Missoula): Expansion to support increased local food distribution