Two Nebraska plants get a chunk of $73 million awarded by USDA to boost smaller meatpackers

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack announces grants during visit to Greater Omaha Packing

By: and - November 2, 2022 6:46 am

Greater Omaha Packing, 30th and L Streets in Omaha. (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)

Two Nebraska meat processors are among the first to receive grants — including nearly $20 million awarded to an Omaha packer — that respond to President Joe Biden’s plan to expand capacity of smaller, independent meat and poultry plants.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was at Greater Omaha Packing Co. on Wednesday to announce the first round of grants coming from a pool of up to $375 million.

Greater Omaha Packing, 30th and L Streets in Omaha. (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)

Wednesday’s recipients represented 16 states and totaled about $73 million, including these in Nebraska:

  • $19,982,400 to Greater Omaha Packing, 30th and L Streets, for a phased $100 million expansion plan expected to create 275 jobs and increase capacity about 29%. The third-generation, privately owned company procures cattle mainly from independent producers in Iowa and Nebraska, processing a reported 2,400 head of cattle daily for customers across the globe, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The company said its expansion should increase slaughter and processing to 3,100 head of cattle per day. The expansion involves buying new equipment and making facility improvements.      
  • $688,011 to Lot 279 LLC of Wisner, Nebraska, for a processing facility to be used by at least three family-owned cattle producers seeking to create their own brands of value-added beef products. The entity, which has been selling beef products in direct-to-consumer retail since 2016, plans to provide portioning and grinding services and sales to wholesale and retail customers. It said it will use small and mid-sized kill facilities.

The grants are part of the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program that seeks to reduce the market share of a small number of companies that process most of the country’s livestock. The program, announced in June, aims to “give farmers and ranchers a fair chance to compete in the marketplace,” Vilsack said Wednesday.

“By jumpstarting independent processing projects and increasing processing capacity, these investments create more opportunities for farmers and ranchers to get a fair price, while strengthening supply chains, delivering more food produced closer to home for families, expanding economic opportunity and creating jobs in rural America,” the secretary said.

Vilsack said increasing the number of smaller processors will give farmers more markets for their animals and will make the nation’s food supply chain more resilient.

The long-running shift to larger processing facilities created problems at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, when facilities that were idled because of widespread worker illness led to sudden drops in demand for the animals. That led, in some cases, to mass euthanasia of livestock.

Increasing the number of smaller, independent processors can also allow for more specialized products, Vilsack said.

“It will give the consumer the ability potentially to be able to purchase locally,” he said in a call with reporters Tuesday. “They may be able to know that the ribeye or the hamburger or the pork chop or the chicken breast that they’re purchasing was actually raised and processed locally, which many consumers are anxious to support.”

Among Wednesday’s 22 recipients, Greater Omaha Packing was awarded the most. The company pays its production employees between $20 and $30 per hour, according to a recent job listing on the company’s website. Its products ship to all states and more than 70 other countries.

“This significant investment will allow the company to remain competitive in the marketplace and continue to support our small family feeder operators while providing incremental value back to the producers,” said Henry Davis, CEO of Greater Omaha. “We believe the production expansions will keep us at the forefront of an ever-changing industry.”

The next-highest grant award of about $8.9 million will go to Upper Iowa Beef, in Lime Springs, to expand its processing capacity about 50%. The USDA did not list how many cattle it processes each day, but the company’s website said it buys cattle from about 400 farmers within 80 miles of the facility.

Nearly $7 million was awarded to Pure Prairie Farms, which bought a shuttered poultry plant in Charles City, Iowa, last year and had hoped to reopen the plant this year, according to the Charles City Press. The facility — which employed about 500 people — closed in August 2019.

“We’ll be returning hundreds of jobs to a small rural community,” Vilsack said.

More grant awards are expected, but Vilsack didn’t say when.

Other notable grant recipients include:

  • Cherokee Locker Investment, Cherokee, Iowa: About $540,000 to build a new processing facility that is federally inspected, so farmers can sell their products locally and online.
  • North Prairie Butchery, South Dakota: About $2.2 million for a new beef and pork facility that will process more than 100 animals per week for commercial sale.
  • Processors LLC, Louisiana: About $7 million to increase its catfish processing capacity by 30% in the next four years.
  • Yosemite Foods, California: About $6.9 million to increase the capacity of an “environmentally conscious” pork facility.
  • Zimmerman Meats, Missouri: $730,000 to aid a long-term expansion project that will include federal inspection of its products for commercial sale.

This article first appeared in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a sister site of the Nebraska Examiner in the States Newsroom Network.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.

Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics. She has won awards from organizations including Great Plains Journalism, the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW) and the Associated Press. Cindy has been recognized by various nonprofits for community contributions and diversity efforts. She chairs the board that oversees the local university’s student newspaper.