BUFFALO LAKE, Minn. — After being shut down for over four years, the huge meat processing facility fronting on U.S. Highway 212 (just immediately east of Buffalo Lake, Minn.) is in high gear today. I had the pleasure to chat with 212 Beef General Manager Carl Garber in his office on Sept 28.
Originally from Texas, Garber is a good-sized guy with courteous demeanor — even with a snoopy ag writer from Olivia. So here we go:
The Land: How many years have you been the general manager at 212 Beef?
Garber: I started here in February. We’ve been open less than a year. I’m originally from the Fort Worth, Texas area. I’ve worked in the beef cattle industry for a little over 35 years … starting out with AgriProcessors in Postville, Iowa. I’ve worked at various beef plants. My forte is kosher meats.
The Land: Who owns this plant, which as I recall was built in the 1980’s?
Garber: We are now owned by a group of livestock producers — some beef, some dairy, some hogs. All are Minnesota and Iowa farmers.
Today our daily kill is 300 head. That’s current plant capacity. But somewhere down the road we’re looking to expand. Beef demand is growing; profitability both for producers and we meat processors is good right now. And there’s an expanding export market which we hope to be part of also. We are marketing into several countries right now. It seems everybody likes the taste of our Black Angus beef processed here at our 212 Beef facility. We’re not yet into China, but see that as future potential also.
(This footnote: Currently 15 percent of U.S. beef is exported. Last year, exports totaled $190 million. For Minnesota, 11.5 percent of production is exported which is adding 41 cents per pound to the carcass value of Minnesota beef.)
The Land: As I drove in today, two semis loaded with cattle were pulling in behind me. With a daily slaughter of 300 animals, you need a steady source of cattle. Where do they come from?
Garber: Essentially within a 100-mile radius. So Minnesota and Iowa are primary sources — though a few get trucked in from South Dakota also. Minnesota is big in corn production … and in my opinion corn is the key requirement in producing high quality cattle. Yes, I understand Iowa is number-one in corn production; then comes Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota. But I’m told right here in Renville County some of Minnesota’s very best corn producers thrive, so it’s obvious U.S. 212 Beef is stratically very well located too.
The Land: With that huge production each day, what time does the daily work load clock in?
Garber: We start our FAB at 6 a.m.; the harvest begins at 6:30. FAB refers to the start of the processing procedures. The harvest is breaking down the carcasses into smaller pieces — called sub-primals — which are then boxed for distribution to our various distribution outlets across the country.
The Land: And I suspect lots of supervision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on this entire operation?
Garber: Yes indeed, virtually continuous surveillance by USDA inspectors doing their work. I’m okay with that … I recognize when in the business of processing meats for human consumption, USDA criteria is very strict, very demanding. And that is as it should be. Too much is at stake for our company, the cattle industry, and most importantly for U.S. consumers.
We have USDA AMS (which is the official who grades every animal we process) every day; then we have USDA FSIS inspectors who monitor food safety. So suffice to say, we are watched closely. Our continual task — and that means each of us — is to do our work diligently and carefully. Yes, teamwork is vital in this process also.
The Land: Branded beef was big news a couple years back. I did a story with Tom Revier, Revier Cattle Company who got into marketing Revier Black Angus Branded Beef.
Garber: They still are, and now we are also. We’re doing Chef’s PlatinumBlack Angus Beef. We’re marketing to food service companies everywhere. We’re even into Florida. Actually, President Trump enjoyed some of our Chef’s tenderloin this past week at his Mar-a-Lago residence. How do we know? Because our distributor in Florida personally delivered it to his residence and called to let us know. We also now do New York, California, and a few other selected market areas.
No, we’re not yet into contracts with selected restaurants; but we’re certainly thinking in that direction. Matter of fact, there’s a very popular restaurant just a few miles away in Hutchinson which is already buying some of our branded Black Angus beef. So there likely will be more of this down the road. Folks talking about that ‘great tasting’ beef at such-and-such restaurant is how these things really get going.
The Land: Beef markets are on the upswing these days. Consumer demand is driving this market, I presume. So are producers marketing heavier cattle to generate some more income?
Garber: Right now they’re coming in between 1,400 and 1,500 pounds with steers closer to that 1,500-pound weight. As this new crop of yearlings got into farmer’s feedlots this past April, I wouldn’t be surprised that we’ll be seeing some 1,600-pound critters from cattle feeders into this new season.