Lime Springs, IA, boasts a population of 500 people. Like many small, rural Midwestern communities, it relies on agriculture for much of its economic base. That economic base, it appears, is working very well.
Especially if you’re a construction worker. Because once you get done building the new packing plant, you can start on the new houses that all the workers will need.
Beginning in early 2015, LimeSprings Beef will fire up operations, says Paul Savage, the new company’s sales and marketing manager. When it does, it will have the capacity to harvest 108 cattle/day; 540/week.
While building a new beef processing plant at a time of historically low cattle numbers may seem counterintuitive, Savage says now is a great time for LimeSprings Beef to enter the market. That’s largely because of where the plant is located and the consumer niche it will fill.
“There are 110,000 fed cattle in the seven counties touching Lime Springs,” he says, roughly a 100-mile radius. With the plant‘s capacity of 540 head/week, it will only need around a fourth of the region’s total cattle feeding capacity.
And all the feedlots are family-owned farmer-feeders, he says, a fact that is playing very well with the foodservice and retail customers he’s lining up to market the product.
The plant will sell a branded line of high-quality beef. “We’ll be able to sell the meat around a 200-mile radius or more from where we’re located,” he says. With Lime Springs nestled in the northeast corner of Iowa, it’s close to several major metro areas, including Minneapolis-St. Paul and Des Moines. Expand that circle just a little and it also includes Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City.
The other reason his restaurant and grocery contacts are excited about the product is because the region has a reputation for producing high-quality cattle. Most of the cattle produced in the region will grade upper 2/3 Choice or Prime, he says. “I’m confident we’ll be the number-one grading plant in the country,” he says.
In the future, LimeSprings Beef will offer even more to its customers. “Within 6-12 months, we’ll be doing all-natural cattle,” Savage says. While the total number is yet to be determined, he anticipates the natural cattle could grow to take up 2-3 days/week of their slaughter capacity.
“The other thing we’re doing is we will have QR codes on the labels and boxes,” he says.” Anybody can take a smartphone, scan that QR code, and see what farm the animal was raised on and know a little about the farmer who raised that animal.”
That technology will be available soon after start-up, he says. When it’s in place, Savage says LimeSprings Beef will be the only packing plant in the country to offer that technology to its customers.
The plant is owned by a group of area farmers and cattle feeders, who hatched the idea of building their own packing plant about three years ago. The advantages the plant offers area cattle feeders are several, Savage says.
One is transportation. Since the cattle feeder typically pays the trucking to get cattle from the feedlot to the packing plant, area feeders will have less cost in putting wheels under their cattle.
The other is a close working relationship with the plant and the ability for information to flow in both directions. The plant will be able to work with area farmer-feeders in producing the kind of beef consumers want, and area feeders will get carcass data back from the plant.
When LimeSprings Beef fires up, it will join Iowa Premium Beef (IPB) in Tama, IA, giving the state two new beef processing facilities. IPB, which began operations this month, plans to slaughter 1,100 head/day by next spring, says CEO Jeffrey Johnson.
Savage knows that LimeSprings Beef is entering a competitive packing environment. But he’s confident the plant will be successful. “Is it a good time for LimeSprings Beef? If you’re going to be processing high-end branded beef, I think this is a great time to be getting into it.”