Some 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 are now getting a smaller share of the consumer dollar than ever, despite record high beef prices.
They say more local processing facilities could make a difference.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., announced that $7.8 million in American Rescue Plan funds have been secured for 30 small agriculture businesses in the state, including 17 existing meat processing projects as well as resources for three new facilities including a slaughter facility under construction here in Billings.
Blue Creek Marbled Meat Co. in Billings will receive $300,000 for a new slaughter facility that is under construction.
Big Sky Process, LLC in Pray will receive $150,000 for a new retail and slaughter facility.
Ranch House Meats & Sausage Company processes beef from Pure Montana Meats, the company's slaughter plant in Miles City.
Pure Montana will receive a $200,000 grant.
"It's a low margin business like most of agriculture," said Shane Flowers, owner of Pure Montana Meats. "So any chance you have to be able to increase capacity and bring more opportunity to the state of Montana is a great opportunity."
Flowers owns Project Meats which runs Ranch House outside Shepherd and in Billings, along with 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 be processing meat.
"Makes the consumer get the best value every day," Flowers said. "Competition is a great thing."
He says having more smaller companies can affect competition in the meatpacking industry.
And he also says what Tester describes as consolidation in the packing industry impacts every business in the beef industry, but more affects ranchers the most
"Only four big corporations making the money," said Annika Charter-Williams, a rancher north of Billings. "It's not the farmers and ranchers."
"The basically quit enforcing any of these monopoly laws," rancher Steve Charter said about the lack enforcement of the 1921 Packers and Stockyards Act.
In a story run last month, Charter and his daughter talked about the low price that 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 out on a golf course and determine what they're going to pay for beef," said Tester.
A shortage of labor is also hampering many small processors ability to compete.
"If we don't have the labor, 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 Sen. Tester's office, the list of grantees recommended by the USDA that will be receiving ARPA funds includes:
New USDA Certified Meat Processing Facilities:
· $150,000 for Big Sky Processing, LLC (Pray): New USDA Retail/Slaughter 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 Awards:
· $150,000 for Bear Paw Meats (Havre): Expansion, State Inspected Slaughter Floor Renovations to Increase Capacity
· $30,286 for BMB Ventures, LLC dba Rawhide Meats (White Sulphur Springs): Expansion, Portioning Vacuum Filler 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, USDA Inspected Meat Processing Equipment Upgrades
· $450,000 for Hamilton Packing Company (Hamilton): Expansion, State Inspected Meat Processing Equipment Upgrades, Existing Retail
· $150,000 for Meats of Montana (Big Timber): USDA Inspected Retail Storefront Expansion at Pioneer Meats, Inc
· $450,000 for OCC Legacy Cuts (Ekalaka): Expansion, USDA/Organic Certified 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, USDA Inspected Meat Processing Equipment Upgrades
· $102,945 for S Ranch Meats, LLC (Hardin): Expansion, USDA Inspected Meat Processing Equipment Upgrades
· $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, Food Manufacturing Facility
· $277,972 for Commercial Lynks Inc. (Ledger): Expansion, Pulse Crop Cleaning, Sorting, Splitting, and Bagging Equipment
· $450,000 for Evergood Commodities Ltd (Inverness): New, Installation of 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): Delivering Montana Sourced Value-Added Products for Montana Schools
· $300,000 for Madison Food Park LLC (Great Falls): New, Phase 1 Cheese Manufacturing & Processing Facility
· $150,000 for Montana Gluten Free Processors (Belgrade): Expansion, Equipment to Increase Processing Line Performance
· $450,000 for Montana Milling (Great Falls/Conrad): Expansion, Dehulling, Decortication and Protein Isolate Extraction
· $450,000 for Montana Premier Protein (Billings): New Pulse Crop 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 The Port of Northern Montana
· $149,900 for Timeless Seeds, Inc. (Ulm): Food Processing, Equipment Upgrade to Maintain Food Safety Certification
· $147,015 for Western Montana Growers Cooperative (Missoula): Expansion to Support Increased Local Food Distribution