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National Beef to close California slaughter plant

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Tim Hearden
The National Beef Packing Co. blames a dwindling supply of available fed cattle for its decision to close its processing plant in Brawley, Calif. The closure will affect about 1,300 jobs.

The National Beef Packing Co. is closing its only West Coast processing facility in Brawley, Calif., affecting about 1,300 jobs and sending shock waves through the already fragile Imperial Valley economy.

A declining supply of fed cattle available to the Southern California facility was a key driver in the company’s decision to stop production there after April 4, company general manager and vice president Brian Webb told local officials in a letter Jan. 31.

National Beef has not determined the future for the plant, which it acquired in 2006, but its support for affected workers will include help in finding jobs at other National Beef facilities, a company news release stated.

“Unfortunately, based on current and projected business needs, the company has made a decision to cease beef slaughter operations in Brawley and close our facility,” Webb wrote.

The Brawley plant has the capacity to slaughter about 1,900 cattle per day, mostly Holstein steers, industry experts told the Reuters news service.

The closure will leave three National Beef plants in Kansas as the closest facilities available to West Coast suppliers. National Beef’s operations in Liberal, Dodge City and Kansas City, Kan., are joined by facilities in Hammels Wharf, Pa., Moultrie, Ga., and St. Joseph, Mo.

The shutdown will also likely have ripple effects through the area’s economy. The plant contributes more than $3.4 million in annual revenue to the city in the form of water and sewer charges and a utility users’ tax – nearly 30 percent of the city’s total water sales and one-quarter of all sewer charges, according to a news release.

Imperial County’s unemployment rate was already 22.5 percent in December, the Imperial Valley Press reported. Cattle were the county’s highest valued crop in 2012 at nearly $484 million, according to the county’s latest crop and livestock report.

The closure comes as severe drought in the West has prompted many ranchers to trim their herds. Cattle herds nationally are at historic lows, reflecting a calf crop that has declined for 17 straight years, University of Missouri ag economist Ron Plain has said.

The Brawley plant has had ongoing issues with the city over its wastewater. In 2008, the Colorado River Basin Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered the city to start a pretreatment program for wastewater from the plant, and the city imposed a surcharge on National Beef based on the amount and contents of sewage it sent to the city’s treatment plant, according to the water board.

Still, the city was fined $1.7 million last year for violations of effluent limitations at the city’s treatment plant, many of which resulted from inadequately pretreated discharge from the slaughterhouse, the water board asserted.

Online

National Beef Packing Co.: http://www.nationalbeef.com/Pages/default.aspx

National Beef Notice to Government Officials: http://www.brawley-ca.gov/media/managed/news/NB_PlantClosure.pdf



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