North Platte rancher Trey Wasserburger, one of the principals behind the Sustainable Beef processing plant in North Platte, inspects a couple of his breeding bulls. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)
LINCOLN — A rancher-owned beef processing plant that is planned in North Platte took another step toward reality Wednesday as Walmart, a huge customer for beef, announced it has agreed to invest a minority stake in the venture.
Sustainable Beef LLC has been planning a $325 million beef processing facility on North Platte’s eastern edge and has been seeking investors.
With the Walmart announcement, construction on the facility is expected to begin in the next couple of weeks. The facility is projected to employ 800 people in the central Nebraska city and is scheduled to open in late 2024.
Planning for the North Platte facility began two years ago, as cattle producers struggled to find places to process their animals due to a shortage of so-called “shackle space” at existing beef processing facilities.
By owning the facility themselves, Sustainable Beef organizers reason that ranchers and feedlot operators will have more control over accessing the processing of their product.
“During this journey we found that Sustainable Beef and Walmart aligned on continuing to improve how we care for our animals and crops and provide consumers the positive experience of enjoying quality beef,” said David Briggs, CEO of Sustainable Beef.
Briggs said the agreement with Walmart wraps up the pursuit of financing by Sustainable Beef.
Walmart officials, in a press release, said its equity investment is part of a broader strategy to expand access to a reliable source of top-quality Angus beef.
“At Walmart, we are dedicated to providing high-quality, affordable beef to our customers, and an investment in Sustainable Beef LLC will give us even more access to these products,” said Tyler Lehr, a senior vice president of merchandising for Walmart U.S.
Humane treatment of cattle
As part of the investment, Walmart will obtain representation on Sustainable Beef’s board of directors.
Walmart said it will work with Sustainable Beef, its cattle feeders and ranchers to better understand issues such as grain sourcing and grazing management, and to adhere to the “Five Freedoms” for humane treatment of cattle. Those include plentiful water and feed, comfortable shelter and freedom from pain and disease. Walmart also has a policy on “judicious” use of antibiotics.
The Sustainable Beef project got a significant boost from the Nebraska Legislature this spring when lawmakers allocated $20 million of the state’s $1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds for wastewater treatment at qualifying meat processing facilities.
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