BILLINGS - The construction of the Blue Creek Marbled Meat Company in Billings is one tool the state is touting to curb the shortage of meat processing facilities in Montana.
Gov. Greg Gianforte took a tour there Wednesday to promote the state’s investment in agriculture.
“I think there’s been a shortage for the last 10 years or so, it’s just now catching up and COVID has really put that on the map,” said Tanner Gambill, a butcher, and spokesman for the company.
The state recently awarded the company a $300,000 federal agricultural grant to build the facility. The money came from the state's allocation of the American Rescue Plan Act. The plant is expected to open in June.
“Without more processing capacity here in the state, the Montana brand is lost on Montana beef,” Gianforte said.
Gambill says there is a shortage but not just with meat-processing facilities, "yes, the plants have a shortage but it’s more so on the end of people producing the product."
Ranchers are no stranger to waiting for their meats to get processed.
“It kind of became a theme in the later 2018s, 2019s, where everybody was booking out for almost six months to a year where traditionally it was a week or two weeks of a wait,” Gambill said.
He says difficult working conditions could be a factor in these long wait times, "it could be a gap from how the treatment of these workers and the people coming into the workforce are treated and paid."
Gambill says wages for these workers need to catch up with the demand, especially as more plants pop up across the state, "we’re a small minnow compared to the demand out there. There’s more plants popping up."
He says smaller plants are being built in cities like Hardin, Terry, Broadus, and Sidney. Production is ramping up, but so is consumer demand.
“I think the consumer demand is ramping alongside of it so I’m not really sure if that’s going to fill the gap,” Gambill said.
As for the Blue Creek Marbled Meat Company, phase one of the process will employ about 20 people and the number of employees is set to grow.
“You’re looking at 80 maybe within the next five years,” Gambill said.