ELKO – A rancher from Elko County has proposed to set up a meatpacking plant at the Railport east of town.
Ken Bowler, owner of Devils Gate Ranch, approached the county about buying or leasing six acres of water rights for a $1.2 million meatpacking plant. The first phase of the plant would start in a 7,500 square foot building and process 100 cattle per week, storing and freezing the meat on site.
Bowler said the goal is for the plant to become a USDA-approved facility. Currently, cattle are sent to USDA processing plants in Utah, Idaho and the Carson Valley.
A plant would save money in freight costs for ranchers in Nevada, he said.
“We think that would be the perfect place, and it will hopefully help breeders increase their profit margin,” Bowler said. He acknowledged that it might be difficult to obtain USDA certification, but he is ready to pursue the company “no matter what.”
“We anticipate there will be a process,” he said. “We’ll probably be bald by the time we’re done pulling our hair out, but we’ll do our best.”
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Bowler predicted that with ranchers transporting cattle closer to home, around 5-7% of the value of cattle could be saved, along with gas expenses.
Nevada Cattleman’s Association President Jon Griggs said the proposed meatpacking plant “would be a great way to sell our product locally. We don’t have that option now. All the cattle we raise have to go somewhere else to be processed.
Currently, calves or yearlings are sold and shipped to livestock operators and feedlots closer to packing facilities, Griggs explained.
He added that if the plant opened in Elko County, it would create a “cohesive market” for breeders and consumers, removing “crazy highs” for consumers and showing long-term profits.
“The market for producers and consumers is cyclical. Right now, consumers are seeing market highs due to market dynamics, and producers are seeing market lows,” Griggs said. “But with a local source like this, we won’t have some of the economies of scale that larger producers have, but it will bring consistency.”
Griggs said keeping the production local “would probably be a better product. Keeping cattle in Nevada could be a win for all of us.
The plant could encounter a few hurdles, such as federal meat inspection, Griggs added.
“Traditionally, it’s been difficult to get a USDA inspector in a fairly small operation or in a market like Elko,” he said. “But the good news is that the Nevada Department of Agriculture is moving in where state inspectors are doing the same job as federal inspectors.”
“The other challenge is that we growers in this region tend to be spring ordeals. Our cattle are all about the same age,” he said. “We will have to work for him, but sometimes we will have an overabundance of cattle and sometimes not enough cattle because they are all around the same age. “
Andrew Church of the Glaser Land & Livestock Co., told commissioners that Bowler and the Devils Gate Ranch have been neighbors and collaborators for years. “We always knew Ken and the team at Devils Gate were progressive and forward-thinking.”
He observed some benefits for the factory, including reduced expense and stress on animals and the environment, as well as local economic diversification with dairies, creameries and bakeries.
“I’m thinking of any way to diversify the economy, but agricultural production in the county is in our best interest,” Church said.
Plus, the plant could be a “good way to show the public that you can produce beef well.”
“I think what happens a lot is the black eyes caused by the big four packers, in terms of these public relations nightmares and the way they treat animals, affects everyone, from breeders, producers, etc,” Church explained. “I think by bringing this down to the local level, we have the opportunity to show people how it can be done properly.”
County Commissioner Wilde Brough said ranchers in surrounding counties could cut costs by transporting their cattle to Elko County and contribute to the local economy at the same time. Ancillary businesses, such as feedlots, could also “take off because of it.”
“I think it’s going to be a big boom. I think it’s going to save a lot of farmers a lot of money on transportation,” he added.
“I really like this idea of a meatpacking plant,” said commissioner Delmo Andreozzi. “I like the idea because cattle are just as much a part of Elko County as mining has been for a long, long time. I think it’s a great idea.”
Commissioners unanimously approved a motion Wednesday for staff to consider options to sell or lease water rights for the plant, with a clause to return ownership to the county if the plant is sold or discontinued. its operations. Currently, Elko County has approximately 200 acre feet of groundwater that has been set aside for Railport development and is being used for its intended purpose, according to County Supervisor and Senior Planner Corey Rice.
Rice told commissioners that staff believed the meatpacking plant was “an appropriate use for these groundwater rights”, explaining that the water should “be used”.
He also added that he was concerned that continued extensions would soon end for primary groundwater rights.
Some water rights have already been sold to a shooting range and motocross track, Rice added. He and Deputy County Manager Curtis Moore also suggested selling the water rights because “it would definitely be easier for all parties involved.”
Due to Nevada’s “use-it-or-lose-it” stipulations, Rice supported the sale of the groundwater rights with a clause to return the rights to Elko County within five years of the sale.
“If we sell the water rights to Devils Gate Ranch, we think we can put a clawback clause in there, say the meatpacking plant closes and something else doesn’t move in five years. “, Rice said. “Then those water rights can revert back to the county.”
However, commissioners Jon Karr and Rex Steninger said they were more in favor of leasing the water rights, while offering full support for the project.
“I don’t like getting rid of [the water rights]”, Karr said. “I think water is king. But I’m 100% for the project.
“I’m also in favor of a lease,” Steninger added. “We can’t let this pass.”
“I speak for the rest of the council: we’ll get you the water, one way or another. We just want to look at the options,” Steninger told Bowler.
Before approaching the county, Devils Gate Ranch purchased water rights in the Osino Basin, but later realized it was in the wrong basin and could not be transferred, explained Rice.
Bowler suggested swapping his purchase of water rights in the Osino Basin with Elko County, “if that could work out.”
Brough supported the rights sale, due to Bowler’s commitment to the project, which will be funded by the Ranch.