Plains cattle ranchers go for their own brand of beef

North Dakota State Roundup

Published July 1, 1996  | July 1996 issue

Plummeting cattle prices and rising feed costs have left cattle ranchers with seemingly little control over their financial destiny. Northern Plains Premium Beef cooperative wants to change that.

Northern Plains, headquartered in Mandan, bills itself as the largest alliance of grassroots cattle producers ever assembled with the intent to process and market beef. Northern Plains hopes to process and market beef "direct from the pasture to the plate" and has begun preliminary marketing at food fairs. The beef will be branded and sold to upscale retailers, and specialized products like natural and extra lean may be marketed as well, says Ryan Taylor, Northern Plains communications director and himself a cattle rancher.

By early May the organization had recruited more than 2,800 cattle producers in seven states (North and South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Wyoming, Nebraska and Iowa) and two Canadian provinces (Saskatchewan and Manitoba). And nearly $356,000 in seed money had been pledged toward the project; each dollar signifies one steer or heifer committed to the cooperative. The greatest number of members comes from North Dakota more than 1,200 ranchers and 111,000 head of cattle pledged.

Plans call for developing a business plan and prospectus this year and establishing a processing plant next year. While the processing plant's location is not yet determined, Taylor says community economic development directors are already knocking at Northern's door.

Taylor expects a site to be chosen by spring 1997 and the processing to begin in summer of '98 if a new facility must be built, or sooner if an existing plant is available. The site must be able to handle 1 million gallons of water per day, provide a ready labor force and offer highway and rail access, he adds.

The co-op has not ruled out a Canadian location, but may consider two sites. "The border is pretty much an imaginary line," Taylor says. "We're all cattle producers."

While it may be too late to save some cattle producers in trouble as a result of the current market, Taylor says, with Northern Plains "you can take charge of your own destiny rather than leaving it to someone else."

Kathy Cobb