Proposed meat processing plant could be a win for Montana producers
November 3, 2017
A Canadian company has started the ball rolling on what could be Montana's largest meat processing facility. Montana's Cascade County Planning Division received a Special Use Permit Application, from Friesen Foods LLC, for the development of the Madison Food Park, a plant that would be built on 3,018 acres near Great Falls.
With 1.49 million beef cows in Montana and 45,000 head of cattle on feed in the Big Sky State, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service, Montana is the ideal place for a processing facility, according to Andy Kellom, feedlot manager at Bos Terra, in Hobson.
"I really don't know a lot about the plans," Kellom said. "But at this point, I don't see how it can be a negative for the cattle industry."
Kellom is 90 miles east of Great Falls, and said they ship cattle up to 400 miles to plants.
“We’re forever going to be known as the stinky slaughterhouse town if they open this facility,”
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A 2014 feasibility study by One Montana, a nonprofit with the goal of changing the way Montanans think and act about rural and urban communities, looked at details of building a multi-species meat processing plant in the state. Experts in plant design, marketing, economics, labor, and wastewater found that a 250-head-per-day plant could be supplied and would be profitable.
Bill Bryan, president of One Montana, pointed out that this study looked at a beef/bison facility primarily, but as a whole, is encouraged that Friesen is looking at building a plant, pointing out that the state "essentially exports 1.5 million critters per year."
"I'm glad to hear they are pursuing their project," Bryan said, and he hopes they gained knowledge from One Montana's public study.
While the proposed project is considerably larger, it would not compete with projects being looked at within the stockgrower's arena, Bryan said.
Friesen Foods, an Alberta, Canada-based company, says it will employ over 3,000 people and export thousands of tons of meat to consumer markets throughout North America.
"The scope and scale of the proposed Madison Food Park (MFP) property and project will include, when complete, a state-of-the-art, robotically controlled, environmentally friendly, multi-species food processing plant for cattle, pigs and chickens and the related further processing facilities for beef, pork and poultry," Friesen Foods said in a statement.
"In addition to the meat packing elements, the project will also incorporate facilities for the processing of both fresh milk supplied by local and regional dairy producers into a variety of cheese products, as well as a distillery, which will source the grain necessary for the production of Montana branded spirits from cereal crops grown by area farmers," Friesen Foods said.
The company also plans to develop training and apprenticeship programs through Montana State University.
The project has raised the ire of some community members, over water issues (up to 3.55 million gallons), animal waste disposal (approximately 103,000 pounds) and the potential smell. The water would come from three to four deep wells drilled into the Madison aquifer.
According to the permit, "99.6 percent of the solid and liquid waste produced as a direct byproduct of livestock processing will be … recycled by means of anaerobic digestion technology incorporated into the energy generation equipment design of the facilities, which will convert the waste stream into usable energy (methane gas) to power electric turbines."
But the permit plans aren't enough to wave off concerns.
People have already created an opposing group — Great Falls Area Concerned Citizens.
"We're forever going to be known as the stinky slaughterhouse town if they open this facility," George Nikolakalos, an organizer of the plant opposition, told reporters.
"I'm generally pro-growth but these plants create a massive stench," Nikolakalos said. When I lived just south of Omaha our whole town and base stunk for hours each week. In some locations it's worse than that. I'd also point out these will be overwhelmingly low-wage jobs and these companies generally import massive amounts of illegal labor. In Iowa and Nebraska entire towns have been overwhelmed by a massive influx of illegal workers. Other towns have since learned the lesson and organized to deny these plants. So, if you're in Belt and downwind you can expect a massive stench and influx of non-English speakers into your schools. There is a a lot of preparation to deal with that if it's going to be approved. With all the empty space, why not go a ways more out of the population center? The community needs to at least ask hard questions and make sure the plant is properly vetted and school, police, jails and civil organizations are ready for the consequences. Of course, before these guys buy the land they've usually already got the key players on board so fighting it will take a hell of a movement."
The Special Use Permit application will have a public hearing by the Cascade County Zoning Board of Adjustment. The project, still in the preliminary stages, has to get approval from a long list of state and federal agencies, including the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, city and county health officials, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, the Cascade County Sheriff's Office, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Malmstrom Air Force Base and Cascade County Conservation Districts.
"It's a concern for the people building the plant, but I don't know if it's a concern for the rest of us," Kellom added, referring to the water and smells associated with the plant, and pointing out that the systems were in place to make sure the project was safe and a positive for the community. ❖
— Eatherton is a freelance writer from Beaulah, Wyo. When she's not writing, she's riding her horse or playing with her grandson. She can be reached at email@example.com.