Willmar-based Jennie-O Turkey Store is building a new $137-million processing plant in Melrose, to replace its aging facility in the central Minnesota city and to install updated food safety technology.

Jennie-O, a wholly owned subsidiary of Austin-based Hormel Foods Corp., started construction on the 300,000-square-foot facility earlier this month and plans to finish by early 2019. The company will continue operating its existing Melrose plant until the new one is ready.

The new plant will incorporate modernized food safety and animal care equipment and processes — something Hormel executives have said publicly is a priority after a bird flu outbreak in 2015. It will also have a greater production capacity.

Once complete, part of the old plant will be torn down while the remainder will still be used for turkey production of Jennie-O’s value-added products.

As for staffing levels, the new equipment means more automation.

“As the plant gets closer to completion, we will be assessing the staffing needs that will be required. We do plan on requiring fewer jobs in the new plant but once the new plant is finished, the existing plant will be partially torn down and the newer section retained to produce further value-added products,” Jennie-O said in an e-mail to the Star Tribune. “We expect all of our team members will continue employment with Jennie-O Turkey Store.”

The new plant will make the same Jennie-O products produced at the existing plant, like fresh and frozen whole turkeys and rotisserie turkey breast deli meat. It will also add capabilities, like Jennie-O’s Oven Ready products, which come preseasoned and in a cooking bag, and can be transferred straight from the freezer to the oven.

“This investment shows the company’s commitment to provide the best processing experience for our growers and to meet our customer needs,” Glenn Leitch, president at Jennie-O Turkey Store, said in a statement. “The new equipment will enhance our animal handling practices and the increased automation will improve people safety.”