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New USDA meat processing facility to open in Montana

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A new meat processing facility is slated to open this fall in Havre, Montana. The facility, named Montana Premium Processing Cooperative, is a member-owned, service-based slaughter and processing facility with the capacity to process 4,000 animals annually.

The new facility is the result of the Montana Farmers Union‘s and Farmers Union Enterprise’s cooperative efforts to purchase a Schwan’s facility in Havre and secure U.S. Department of Agriculture certification. The co-op will partner with Montana State University-Northern to train students in meat-cutting and to help develop future curricula in meat processing and business.

“Essentially, producers leave $1,500 to $2,000 on the table for every steer they sell to the large out-of-state meat processing facilities. Montana producers are at a stage where they want to be retailing their own beef and that is a value-added concept,” MFU Chief of Staff Matt Rains told the Prairie Star.

The facility will harvest cattle, sheep, hogs, and bison, and it will feature a mobile harvest unit. Farmers and ranchers in Montana are eligible to become members of the co-op and own one common stock for $5,000. 

The co-op has hired Bill Jones as the general manager of the USDA-certified processing facility. Jones is a native of Montana who has spent time working as a butcher, in the retail market, and in meat shops around the state.

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Jones told Northern Ag Network, “We’re going to be teaching young people how to handle animals in a way that’s calm and respectful. On a slaughter day, you want to be quiet, calm, and move things along carefully, doing a really good job so that everyone maintains quality and integrity throughout the process. We want our people to be careful, safe, and take care of those animals all the way through the process.”

New processing facilities have been popping up around the country following slaughterhouse closures. Currently, four industry giants slaughter 85 percent of grain-fattened cattle in the country that are cut into steaks, ribs, and roasts: JBS USA, Tyson Foods Inc., Cargill Inc., and National Beef Packing Company. 

Smaller facilities aim to provide ranchers with more options for processing, and to help address food insecurity. Earlier this year, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte awarded $300,000 to another processing facility in the state — Blue Creek Marbled Meat Company near Billings. The value-added agriculture grant aimed to help build the new processing facility in Yellowstone County with the capacity to harvest an initial 4,500 head per year. Other facilities are opening in South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, and Texas

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