Meat plant reopens in central Minnesota

  • Article by: MIKE HUGHLETT
  • Star Tribune
  • July 6, 2012 - 8:27 PM

New investors have recently revived a shuttered beef processor in central Minnesota and are angling for a state grant that would allow them to expand its production and employment.

Triple J Family Farms, a venture of a Chicago meat distributor and an Iowa feedlot operator, reopened the plant in Buffalo Lake in April with about 80 workers. With a planned expansion, it would employ around 200 and provide a nice economic boost for Renville County.

The former North Star Beef slaughterhouse was forced to close in April 2009 because of excessive arsenic levels in its well water. But that problem has been solved through a new water sourcing arrangement with the city of Buffalo Lake, which is about 80 miles west of Minneapolis.

Like North Star, Triple J is a kosher beef slaughter specialist. The plant is processing a "couple hundred" head of cattle per day, but its goal is to reach capacity of 600 head daily, said Jeff Eastman, the plant's general manager.

To boost production, the company must increase its wastewater processing capacity, he said, and Triple J is partnering with the nearby city of Hector to do just that. Compared with Buffalo Lake, Hector has a wastewater facility that's larger and more adaptable to the Triple J expansion.

The wastewater project is slated to cost $2.5 million, which includes building a 5.5-mile pipeline and pumping station from Hector to the Triple J plant, said Hugh Veit, Hector's city engineer. Plans are for Triple J to cover half the tab; a state grant, the other half.

The city applied this week to the state's Capital Projects Grant Program, a $47.5 million fund created earlier this year and run by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).

The deadline for applications is Monday, and the state already has about 45 of them, said Monte Hanson, a DEED spokesman. "It's going to be very competitive."

Though declining to disclose dollar amounts, Eastman said Triple J has made "significant investments" in the Buffalo Lake plant, including building new warehouses and fabricating operations. Fabrication is the disassembly of the animal into various cuts of meat.

The Triple J plant takes in cattle from Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa and Nebraska. The firm is owned by Iowa feedlot operator John Derner and Jim Stevens, head of Chicago food wholesaler Lincoln Provision Inc.

The old North Star plant drew its water from its own well, one with unacceptably high levels of arsenic. Triple J solved that problem by contracting for water with Buffalo Lake, which acquired a new well to deal with its arsenic issues.

In state tests last spring, trace levels of arsenic in both the plant's and the city's water supply were within acceptable levels, said Buddy Ferguson, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003

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