Demkota Ranch Beef: From Farm to Table, Locally Produced Meat is a Cut Above
for Tri-State Livestock News
In an industry dominated by giants, Demkota Ranch Beef in Aberdeen, South Dakota, may seem like a pretty small player. But the business plays a big role in the local economy as an employer and by purchasing 90 percent of the beef they harvest within a 300-mile radius of Aberdeen. The young business is growing, and in spite of COVID, managed to harvest the same number of cattle in 2020 as they did in 2019; a whopping 300,000 head each year.
“For the last several years we’ve kept pretty quiet, focusing on our business and trying to grow the business,” said Adam Bode, chief operating officer for Demkota Ranch Beef. “We’re ready to hone in on our strategy and tell our story. We’re really a customer and producer network. We don’t exist without our customers or our suppliers. Cattle producers are our suppliers and we value them. We believe there are no better cattle anywhere than here in South Dakota and the surrounding area. We don’t exist without our consumers, either. We are targeting quality to keep those customers coming back for more. We have to be competitive; we’re not a true niche market, like grassfed or organic; we’re more mainstream but we are value-added. We build our strategy around quality, from the cattle we source to superior processing methods to our customer service, and we’re confident that if we stick to these goals our product will always find a home.”
Herman Schumacher owns LDL Cattle Company, Inc. near Ipswich, South Dakota. He feeds and finishes around 15,000 head of cattle each year and says 80 percent of them go to Demkota.
“They buy harvest-ready cattle and they are very competitive,” Schumacher said. “It’s been a good market to go to. It’s a real boon for the cattle market in this area. Here in the Dakotas we raise the best cattle in the country; the best in the world.”
Ken’s SuperFair Foods, a locally owned grocery store chain with six stores in Aberdeen, Britton, Clark, Eureka, Groton and Ipswich, features Demkota Ranch beef, and owner Kevin Fiedler couldn’t be happier with the product they put on their shelves.
“Demkota came to us about six years ago and wanted to partner with us,” he said. “They wanted to partner with a local chain serving the farm and ranch communities in the area, showing farmers and ranchers that we’re working for them. It was a tough decision that meant putting all our eggs in one basket. We’re told not to do that, told we need diversity in our suppliers just in case something happens. It was a big step to go to Demkota virtually exclusively as our beef source, but it was one of the best decisions Ken’s team has ever made. We’ve increased our beef sales by 20 percent since we started selling Demkota beef. We can feel proud that these locally-raised cattle, finished on local corn, are the best in the United States, and they are right in our backyards.”
Demkota supplies Ken’s stores with all of their beef except for some prepackaged hamburger, which comes from a wholesaler.
“All our roasts, all our freshly ground hamburger, all our steaks and fillet come from Demkota,” Fiedler said. “Our customers have been very happy with this beef; I can’t even remember the last time somebody came in to complain about a steak being tough. Our semi is at Demkota this morning, as it is once every week, loading beef that was processed yesterday. We will distribute it between our stores. We are pretty proud that we can guarantee our customers that the beef they purchase comes literally from their own backyards. We have the capability to track this beef from farm to plate and we’re happy to do so for specific events we cater.”
While Demkota does not seek out third-party source-verified cattle, they do keep records of where every animal they process comes from and where that meat goes.
“We can tell you where we bought every head,” Adam Bode said. “We can tell you what day it was processed and trace every pound of meat we ship to its destination. These things are required by the USDA.”
COVID threw a monkey-wrench into the 2020 business year for cattle producers, feeders, processors and consumers, but Demkota followed recommended precautions, even going above and beyond in in many cases in an effort to keep employees healthy and continue supplying safe food.
“It took an enormous amount of effort on the part of our people,” Bode said. “From our line workers to our management everyone put in long hours, working 12-hour shifts, working weekends, and our sales staff found new markets. The industry in total was heavily impacted by COVID and we were no exception. We had to run at reduced capacity for a while but we were able to make up for that over time. The food service industry dried up overnight when mandatory shutdowns were put in place, and food service is a big part of our base. We had to find new retail customers, and we did. Our international market is another facet of our business; we do ship to a lot of countries. We are trying to create a demand globally for our product by sharing our story about our roots and our quality product. This is the foundation of what Demkota is about.”
Area cattle producers interested in supplying beef to Demkota are encouraged to reach out to the company through their website, http://www.demkotaranchbeef.com.
“We are constantly sourcing new producer partners,” Bode said. “We respond to every message we receive. Someone from our cattle procurement department will be happy to come and look at your cattle, or for individuals looking at getting into the cattle business we can help them structure a new program to fit our needs. We don’t actively create partnerships between cow/calf producers and feedlots but, like most things in South Dakota, it’s a pretty small world. We know most of the larger feeders in the area and are happy to pass along contact information.
“We like to source our beef as local as we can, and we are always targeting quality. We have a multifaceted goal of bringing value to our customers while supporting farmers and ranchers and trying to show the rest of the world the two best things that come out of South Dakota and the area: corn and cattle. Whether producers finish their own calves or send them to a feedlot, a high-quality corn ration can turn calves and cull cows alike into great tasting beef. We know that cow/calf producers will always have cows they will cull, so about half of the animals we harvest are cows and half are younger animals.”
Demkota may control less than 1 percent of the market share in an industry where four large companies own 80 percent of that market, but they are making a big impact in their little corner of the world.
“The other part of the story that we’re trying to tell is that at the end of the day we make food,” Bode said. “In this industry we don’t talk a lot about what we do, and since we’re surrounded by fences and working behind closed doors in a big building with no windows for biosecurity reasons there is a negative perception of us. But ultimately we’re taking a product that comes in the door in an inedible state and we’re disassembling it so that it leaves as a great tasting, high quality meal that people can put in front of their children and spouse, whether it leaves here to go to retail at Ken’s, goes to a food service warehouse, or is exported. A lot of people are afraid of a career in the meat processing industry, but we’re working to change that. There are opportunities for all kinds of jobs at Demkota from knife workers to forklift operators to management; there are over two hundred jobs in this building and 40 percent of those jobs don’t require using a knife. We pay great wages and offer a great benefit package.”
Demkota Ranch Beef is proud to source and supply South Dakota beef. They’re also proud to be a part of the local economy.
“We are one of the largest employers in Brown County,” Bode said. “We have paid our employees over $100 million in payroll over the last two years. In that same timeframe we have purchased over $800 million worth of cattle from local farmers, ranchers and feeders. Sourcing our beef locally is not only meaningful, it also has a positive economic impact in the area for our employees and their families and our producers and their families. We feel that these things are pretty significant and we value these partnerships.”
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Cost savings, easier workload, better animal and rancher health are driving a shift to calve with nature in South Dakota.