Update on 2 proposed Montana meat packing plants
Montana Madison Food Park
A Nov. 20 meeting on the proposed Montana Madison Food Park, near Great Falls, has stirred a heated debate on the pros and cons of meat plants in a state that currently has two large-scale slaughter houses on the discussion table.
Todd Hanson, managing partner with the Norsman Consulting Group, working with the Madison Food Park plans, spoke to local residents on the status of one of the so-called Friesen plants.
In early October, the Cascade County Planning Office announced that Friesen Foods LLC, a Canadian livestock production and animal nutrition corporation had filed an application to develop a large slaughterhouse and meat processing plant on the outskirts of Great Falls.
According to Hanson, Friesen Foods has started the process with the purchase of 3,018 acres of undeveloped land, located about 8 miles southeast of Great Falls. He said the plant would employ up to 3,000 people and export thousands of tons of meat to consumer markets throughout North America. The preliminary numbers for 260 processing days include, 1,800 cattle per day, 9,200 hogs per day, and 135,000 chickens per day.
While the plant is still in the infant stages of planning, a group of concerned citizens has been diligent in voicing opposition. Following the meeting, the group, Great Falls Concerned Citizens, released a statement.
“Tonight’s public engagement by Todd Hanson occurred only after an apparent effort to push this slaughterhouse through while no one was paying attention failed weeks ago. Tonight’s “sales pitch” was no different than those made to other communities who suffer the consequences of these abominations: exaggerated promises of “good-paying jobs” and new technologies with little track record that will finally work this time. But in the end the results are always the same. The annual 1 billion gallon water use and 300 million pounds of animal solids puts our wells, water, and air at serious risk of contamination. The odors and damage to our quality of life will devastate property values. The arrival of thousands of transient low-wage workers will burden our schools, law enforcement, medical providers and welfare services. The reputation of our town will be damaged forever chasing out young families, retirees, college graduates, professionals, and the chance for real long-term growth. Tumors grow. We say, growth at what cost? This slaughterhouse is a bad deal for our community and we will stop it.”
But Hanson addressed the lack of communication in the meeting, calling it an opportunity for economic growth and an opportunity for producers in the state of Montana.
“There has been a misconception that our silence meant something other than it did. Our silence meant that we were doing our due diligence. We were studying all the options,” Hanson said.
Water has been another big concern for opponents of the plant.
“Our estimation right now, at peak operating capacities, so think five years don’t think year one, think year five, we expect needing 3,072 acre feet per year to service the needs of the Madison Food Park,” Hanson said, during the meeting, and shared information about using Advanced Biological Nutrient Recovery or ABNR systems.
“Waste solids are slurry in your digester. That which is filtered through goes to the ABNR system. The two byproducts that come off that I have indicated are bio-gas and fertilizers,” Hanson said.
According to Hanson, the project development team is in the process of revising the amended Cascade County Special Use Permit application, with plans to re-submit in early 2018.
The conversations will continue, and Hanson said meetings are in the works with local and regional producer groups, including Montana Cattlemen’s Association, Montana Stock Grower’s Association, Farmers Union and more. These discussions also include exploring a potential collaboration on the $300 million agreement between the Montana Stock Grower’s Association and China’s JD.com.
Hanson said, they are, “looking forward to visiting with farming and ranching families across the state in 2018 to learn first-hand how they see the benefits and challenges associated with the development of the MFP project on their operations and business models.”
The MSGA/China proposal includes a minimum commitment of $200 million in Montana beef to be imported by JD.com and $100 million to be invested in a processing facility.
Fred Whacker, who negotiated the deal with JD.com said that there is no meeting scheduled to discuss the possibility of teaming up on a single plant between Friesen Foods and MSGA/JD.com. He said MSGA is looking at potential sites for their own plant. “We’re moving forward with our China deal at the present time,” said the Miles City man who serves as first vice president of the MSGA.
Whacker said JD.com, a Chinese company similar to Amazon will invest $200 million into a plant, but he doesn’t know what percent of the plant the company will actually own. MSGA will be considered a stockholder as well. “Montana Stockgrowers will be doing the leg work as far as the finances and they will be doing a lot of the leg work as far as being an advocate for the plant,” he said.
At this time, there is no decision on whether or not the plant will only process cattle from MSGA members. “We are not going to turn them (cattle from non-MSGA members) down.”
Because JD.com won’t own the plant completely, some product will be sold to other companies, and some companies might even utilize the plant for their own processing, Whacker said. “I don’t see them buying all the meat that the plant puts out. There are parts off the carcass they won’t be interested in.
“We view this as a plant that handles specialty cattle. So if we have a buyer that wants to have a certain kind of cattle, certain quality specifications, a certain breed, we want to be able to say ‘yes, we can do that.’”
The agreement with JD.com is for Montana-sourced cattle, but other deals might be made with other companies. “Let’s say Whole Foods or Albertsons or some other company comes along and wants to buy product, they will have restrictions or things that fit their business model. Or maybe they won’t have any.” JD.com has asked for source and age-verified cattle with no implants, Whacker said.
The deal with JD.com is set to run for three years but Whacker hopes it lasts much longer. He said the group is looking for possible sites to build a plant but in the meantime will probably process cattle at an established plant. He believes Montana meat will be packed for JD.com by August or September of 2018.
Whacker owns and operates the Cross Four Ranch, a cow-calf and yearling operation. His operation also finishes cattle purchased from about 50 ranches. “Everything we’ve got right now starts out being natural and a lot of them are NHTC (non-hormone treated cattle).” Currently cattle from Whacker’s feedlot supply beef for Whole Foods and are slaughtered at a Tyson plant in Lexington, Neb. “We’ll continue to do business with Tyson. This China thing is in addition to what we currently do here in Montana.”