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Opinion: Madison Food Park - Opportunity or a Stinking Problem?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018/Categories: Popular Posts, Today's Top 5, Opinions

Opinion: Madison Food Park - Opportunity or a Stinking Problem?

By Maggie Nutter

“I am proud of where I live and will continue to fight for our quality of life, environment, and to keep industrial agriculture and meat processing on this massive scale out of Montana. I do believe meat processing is an important value-added component to our agricultural community, but on a much smaller scale. This facility, if built according to original plans, will be the largest meat processing slaughterhouse in the Northwest United States and one of the biggest in the country. This puts our region at risk of Industrial agriculture, negatively impacting our local farmers and ranchers. In other parts of the country, when the large meat processing facilities have moved into rural areas, this opened the door for Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) taking over the agricultural sector. We should not let ourselves be taken advantage of or exploited and we must protect our rural heritage and our Big Sky Country.” https://ecitybeat.com/unbiased-zoning-board-adjustments/

I am not sure I agree with the above statement. Large meat processing in Montana may be what saves the livestock industry.   When the high-speed grain processing and loading facilities came into Montana there was difficulty in changing our farm operations to hold and truck grain according to the railroads schedule. Yet it was important the infrastructure be available to get massive amounts of Montana grain to the coastal port.  80% of Montana wheat is exported.  We are seeing processing plants built for garbanzo beans and pulse crops we didn’t even know the names of 10 or 15 years ago.  The agriculture industry changes with the consumer demand and the need for efficiency.

As it becomes more difficult due to regulations and expenses to ship livestock to out of state feedlots and slaughter facilities, Montana ranchers need to look for solutions to those issues. A large food processing facility could be that solution.  A facility built with the most modern technology available. This is not the meat packing plant of 20 or 30 years ago.  It would be multiple species, dairy, grain and valuable by-products of those processes.

Montana has over 2.5 million beef cattle and 18,000 dairy cattle. We produce more beef than Montana could ever eat, yet we don’t eat much Montana beef.  There are a few small processing plants here in Montana, but most grocery stores, food service, and restaurants are selling beef that was not born, raised, fattened and harvested here in Montana.  Montana cattle are shipped to out of state feedlots to fatten then shipped to large processing plants that have wholesale customers that then redistribute the meat products.  Also thrown into that processing plant mix is imported cattle.  If this facility was built it would be totally possible for Friesen Foods, LLC to supply grocery stores such as Albertsons, IGA, Super 1 and Smiths with Montana beef, pork and poultry.   There are currently a few grocery chains that try to supply local meat, but this would allow almost all chains that opportunity.  Restaurants, schools and other food service would have the opportunity for not only Montana beef but pork and poultry. 

Montana milk is currently picked up and shipped out of state for processing and packaging and then trucked back to our grocery stores.  The Madison Food Park could provide opportunities for our suffering and dwindling dairy industry here in Montana.

It is important to note that Friesen Foods, LLC, who is building the Madison Food Park, is modifying their permit and building plans to address many of the expressed concerns of odor, water consumption, water pollution and solid waste disposal.  Since their first meeting and press releases they have committed to using technology to reduce water consumption and capture and recycle the water that is used.  The water purifying and recycling company they plan on using is out of Missoula, Montana. (http://clearaswater.com/)  This technology will capture the water used in the facility, purify it, and reuse it.  There will be by-products from the algae process that will be beneficial for animal feed and fertilizer use.  The solid waste will be put through a bio digester to collect gas for energy production to operate the facility and there will be solid waste similar to compost put out by this process.  This technology is improving all the time and the use of it will help in the sustainability of the facility. 

Madison Food Park does not plan to have onsite livestock holding pens of feedlots.  Animals would be off loaded from the trucks directly into the kill line. Unlike many plants that may hold animals in pens for 24- 72 hours, they plan on the animals from the first truck being on the kill floor by the time the next truck is unloading.  This will take extremely tight planning and scheduling for truckloads of livestock. The trucks will have to clean out or be washed before leaving the property. The resulting waste from that process will have odor control via foam covering and water treatment also. 

The company plans on using an instate labor force.  Friesen Foods, LLC will start their employees according to a study completed again by a Missoula company that determined a “living wage” for Montanans. They hope to have career paths for employees so as to retain them and not have high turnover rates that most slaughter plants and food processing facilities have. Due to the high amount of technology that will be used at this facility Friesen Foods is already in contact with the local university to provide education for future employees.   Todd Hansen mentioned the unemployed loggers in the Libby area, the Missoula wood mill workers, and the declining coal mining industry.  This facility could provide jobs to help replace those that are being lost in those other industries.  Great Falls was a good area because they have the ability to house new workers, provide adequate education and medical care.  Smaller area’s may not have the ability to provide the basic services as we saw in the Bakken area during the start of the oil boom there.

If this facility is built there will be opportunity for those currently in Montana agriculture to add another income stream or add value to the products they currently sell.  There is opportunity for feedlots and farmers to produce feed for those feedlots.  There will be opportunities for poultry production that have not been available before in the state of Montana. Broiler chicken production would open up and perhaps the ability to do it seasonally in a cageless production method.  There will be opportunity to grow the pork industry in Montana with non-conventional production methods.  Perhaps the time will come again when the local farmer could haul pigs to the auction yard or have small contract opportunities.  Grain would be needed for distilling and the produced alcohol for beverages would provide opportunities for those wishing to produce custom Montana spirits.  Also, the distillers grain by products would be excellent livestock feed. We haven’t even mentioned the dairy processing.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have Montana produced dairy products to sell right here in Montana? 

This is not to ignore the challenges, obstacles and concerns that large processing facilities can produce, but to say, would it not be more constructive to look for ways to mitigate those concerns of water usage, pollution, odor and road traffic, then to tear down and destroy a project that could benefit Montana’s largest industry, Agriculture. 

It is important that all agriculture producers demand good and ethical behavior from Friesen Foods, LLC but also that we stand as a unified voice in support of them.  If we wish to see this come to fruition we must look at the possible impacts, good and bad, then work though them in unity.  The goal should be to find solutions to the problems, not kill the opportunity.  If agriculture is silent, groups like the Great Falls Area Concerned Citizens will make certain this opportunity is never seen.

I would be glad to hear other’s thoughts on this topic.

Maggie Nutter is the co-owner of the Certain Creek Ranch at Sweetgrass, Montana 
and current President of the Marias River Livestock Association

 

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12 comments on article "Opinion: Madison Food Park - Opportunity or a Stinking Problem?"

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Butch Kallem

1/11/2018 5:44 AM

This would be a great business for Great Falls. It would be a great business for anywhere in Montana. Everyone complains about having to ship their product out of state, and here is an opportunity to raise, manufacture and sell Montana products right here in Great Falls.


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Larry Wurtz

1/11/2018 2:51 PM

Well said . Montana needs this project the problem being people don't like change.People that have lived there think all should stay as it was . They never think maybe we could encourage something like this an get jobs for the people in the local community . Always thinking to the negative side of things.


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Peggy Johnson

1/11/2018 6:42 PM

My biggest concern is the type of worker that will move into Montana to work at this plant. If you look at any of the meat plants of almost any kind in any state, you will see what I mean. Does Montana really want that? I think not. We are long time ranchers and we definitely do not see this plant as an asset to Montana. Thanks.


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Larry Kralj

1/11/2018 8:14 PM

I see that they've already started recycling their manure here in this article!


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Sheryl Goff

1/13/2018 9:56 AM

What a boon to the Montana economy! I'm all for this. Thanks for the article.


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Josh Wagoner

1/13/2018 9:11 PM

Great points, Maggie. How about you see if you can make a deal with Friesen to sell them some of your land, or maybe convince one of your neighbors to sell to them, so you can live next to it and intimately deal with all the great benefits you mentioned, along with any negative consequences you failed to share?


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Maxine Jones

1/14/2018 6:40 PM

I'm excited for all the businesses involved in this project, from cow/calf operators, those who summer yearlings, feedlots, and even those packers some love to call 'mean, unfair, and worse!, to the multitude of bankers, grain farmers and dealers, and many more from main street to exporters who will make money and spend money from locally to internationally!

Those 'types of workers' of concern above will be workers with jobs! What could be better for the area than that???? If there are a few problems, aren't there problems with our local citizens who do not work for whatever reason???? And for a project of that size, there surely are going to be more than just the lowest paid jobs!


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Maggie Nutter

1/15/2018 9:22 AM

When you look at the project as a whole and the technology they state they plan on using, there will be more than just meat cutting jobs. If there is a bio-digester there will be plummer and electricians that care for that, if there is water purification where will be employees educated to care for that. The cheese factory would have workers and the Grain distillery would have workers. Todd Hanson stated they hoped to have employees that could move between operations when there are slow seasons for a product. Hanson stated they hoped that Montana's would fill the positions needed. Great Falls just build a second Walmart. My understanding is starting wage is between $9 & $11 an hour and most positions are part time. Perhaps those under-employed workers would consider a job that starts at more out at the Madison Food Park. There would be opportunity for many people in the surrounding towns to gain employment. I myself drove 50 miles one way to work at a medical facility for years. My husband now drives the hour to work most days. It is not uncommon for ranchers and farmers to have off operation jobs in town. People in rural areas looking for a second income could certainly take advantage of this project.


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Maggie Nutter

1/15/2018 9:35 AM

Josh,

We are not water rich in the country up here. We have paid to drill 5 dry wells. Many places still haul water from town and fill cisterns for house hold use. There is a pipeline that may come someday from TIber but the lines they are laying will not accommodate the water usage it would take for the Madison Food Park. Nor is there even close to adequate medical and educational facilities.

I understand there is concerns with the negatives, but I stand by the statement. "This is not to ignore the challenges, obstacles and concerns that large processing facilities can produce, but to say, would it not be more constructive to look for ways to mitigate those concerns of water usage, pollution, odor and road traffic, then to tear down and destroy a project that could benefit Montana’s largest industry, Agriculture. "

We are all impacted by growth and changes in our communities. Up here we deal with oil fields and wind farms. Different than the Madison Food Park but not without their own issues. The thing is we all want to sit in our heated homes and drive our fancy pick ups so fuel is needed and sometimes the production of those resources fall in our own back yard.

Montana needs ways to process and market it's agriculture goods. Well, that is going to fall in someones back yard. To learn how we can lessen the negative impacts whether it is in Great Falls or Billings or two states over is important.


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Maggie Nutter

1/15/2018 9:46 AM

Larry,

No one asked me to write this article, I wrote it after sitting though a presentation by Todd Hanson and after a length phone discussion where I asked a ton on questions. I know and understand there are negatives that go with the positive possibilities of such a project but Montana needs ways to process and market it's agriculture produces. The suggested project could benefit many farmers and ranchers. Many Montana communities benefit from agriculture. Drive around Great Falls and you will see large agriculture equipment dealers, Farm chemical and seed dealers, Livestock feed dealers, Agriculture banks like Northwest Farm Credit and Stockman's Bank . There are stores that cater to agriculture like, North 40, Western Ranch Supply, Fleet Supply and so on. If you walk in to Sam's Club you will find that many farmers and ranchers from outlining areas as far as 150 miles out are there shopping. Agriculture is a big part of the Great Falls economy as it is in many of the small surrounding communities. To benefit agriculture all over the state would benefit Great Falls and it's residents also.

I stand by the statement, "This is not to ignore the challenges, obstacles and concerns that large processing facilities can produce, but to say, would it not be more constructive to look for ways to mitigate those concerns of water usage, pollution, odor and road traffic, then to tear down and destroy a project that could benefit Montana’s largest industry, Agriculture. "


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Brian Blackford

1/15/2018 3:50 PM

I'm confused. If this plant is such a great thing why aren't any other towns in Montana or even the surrounding states competing for the honor of having a slaughter in their town. 3,000+ new jobs and all the secondary business.

Why aren't there any examples of other plants that are as great as the bill of goods that Great Falls is being sold. With living wages and low turn over that are being run by local workers.

To me this is some one trying to sell you something you don't want is your town by making promises that are to good to be true.

The old saying still applies. If it sounds to good to be true.....


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Ashley Callahan

2/20/2018 4:41 PM

Google Bear Paw Meats...The business model that has been in place for 10 year, that Todd Hanson has extremely (suspiciously) similar branding. I am sure in your lengthy visit, he used words like Montana Bred, Montana fed, and Pasture to plate. He has shopped in our store for years. Look up Kalispell Kreamery for a Montana dairy provider. They are simply amazing and growing! We now have them at our store in Havre Montana! There are plenty of Montana based businesses that are growing, yes slower, but growing Value Added Montana Agriculture. In my opinion, the right way. As a person who believes in Montana beef, and Montana agriculture, I feel like Brian Blackford hit the nail on the head. People are being bamboozled by a swift tongue, and lots of cash.

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