Mott’s the spot: New meat packing plant opens in southwest North Dakota
Designer and Reporter
“I’m ready to fly to D.C. and start lobbying for these ranchers, because I don’t know who else is.”
The chasm between where our country’s decisions are made and where our working ranchers are making a living is large – both physically, and politically. New York City is a long way from our region and sometimes seems like it has a different breed of people altogether – but occasionally, the chasm is crossed.
A new meat processing plant called South 40 Beef is beginning construction just outside of Mott, North Dakota, and is set to be operating by March 1 of 2021. The plant will be approximately 5,500 square feet, create 10-12 jobs, have a capacity of 160 head per month, and is set to begin making a profit 6-9 months into operation. The story behind the man behind the plant is a rare and impactful one.
John Roswech first visited southwest North Dakota approximately 20 years ago on a pheasant hunting trip. He sold e-commerce software to large retailers like Walmart and Best Buy, at the time living in New York City. On his hunting trips he fell in love with the prairie, and when his two children graduated college, he and his wife Kim decided to move west full-time. They bought pasture and farmland near Mott, grooming it for habitat and pheasant hunting and now running their own herd of 100 Black Angus cattle.
“My background is not agriculture, and certainly not cattle. As we were moving here from New York City, I wanted to get in the cattle business and see how I can make money there. I researched it and found out it’s very, very challenging. You used to be able to own 100 head of cattle and support your family. The price disparity between the packers and producers and what the ranchers are getting is huge right now. I can’t make money in cattle alone, so what other problem can I actually solve in the cattle industry?”
This line of thinking was before COVID-19. The pandemic hit, and it became clear that a beef processing plant was Roswech’s answer. He wants the ability to process and slaughter his own cattle, and local ranchers’ cattle. The beef will then sell via online orders to consumers across the nation.
“Consumers in New York City and LA are willing to pay more for quality beef. Part of my business plan is to leverage my e-commerce background and marketing my North Dakota cattle to consumers on the coast.”
Roswech is passionate about helping ranchers in North Dakota. Opening a plant that could process under official inspection was a priority, allowing local ranchers to process then directly sell their beef to consumers.
“You’re not asking the consumer at this point to buy a quarter, half, or whole under a custom butcher. We’ll allow them to retail specific cuts, and that will yield more per head than going under custom or bringing their cattle to the sale barn. My ambition is to help ranchers get their cattle processed and to allow them to make a living.”
The process of beginning this project was difficult, according to Roswech. “Finding a location to build the plant was very, very challenging. I looked in both the Dakotas. North Dakota was very friendly to the idea, but it was tough to find a location that had the ability to hook up to an existing waterline. Towns don’t want slaughtering in town, so I had to find something slightly outside of town on a good road that allowed for access to water.”
He looked at plans all the way from Rapid City to Bismarck, but said the city of Mott worked hard to find land and water for the plant.
Mayor Troy Mosbrucker and a few other city leaders told Roswech to hang tight when he proposed his idea. Finding land and water were the two biggest hurdles. Within 2 weeks, Mosbrucker found landowner Robert Martin, who sold them 5 acres of land with a water source about a mile west of town. Martin had said he didn’t want to see the processing plant go anywhere else.
“It’s economic development for the city, and the county. Everyone will benefit from it. He’s bringing families to town. We had a meat shop here in Mott close about a year ago, and we miss it, and we want another one. Meat processing plants are hard to come by. I buy beef for my family, and I have to wait a year for the producer I buy from.”
Mosbrucker said anytime someone wants to begin this kind of project in your city, there are always questions. Roswech won him over with enthusiasm, excitement, and dedication to the idea. “There have been a few hurdles, but he’s got them covered,” Mosbrucker said.
Roswech said he believes he’s past the hardest part of securing land, water, money, and an engineering firm to create a design for the plant. “If you want to operate a plant at full capacity, you need a solid work flow, with experts who can design the correct rail system. Especially under official inspection, the facility needs to be designed in partnership with the state agriculture department. It was work to find an engineering firm, and that’s one of the most important things. Another is engaging in ag and economic development authority, because there is some assistance out there for new plants that can help guide you through the paperwork process.” Operating under official inspection comes with a few extra requirements, including more paperwork and documentation. The inspector has to be on-site during the slaughtering and cutting processes.
North Dakota is one of seven states that participate in the Cooperative Interstate Shipment Program, which allows the state to perform inspection during slaughter and processing and the product can display the federal inspection stamp. North Dakota was the second state to meet the “same as” inspection requirements of the USDA and was accepted into the CIS program as of January 11, 2013.
The support Roswech found in the state included North Dakota Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring. Roswech first approached the Agricultural Products Utilization Commission, where Goehring said first impressions weren’t solid, but the commission was impressed after having open dialogue with a humble Roswech.
“He’s humble enough to say he doesn’t know the livestock industry at it’s best, he has a lot to learn, he doesn’t know everything about slaughtering facilities but that’s why he’s hiring good people. We could at least give him a little bit of seed money to help with the engineering costs and go from there,” Commissioner Goehring said.
Goehring and the State Department of Agriculture assisted with the plant’s design to ensure the workflow was efficient. This included conversations about exactly how the animals will flow from the outside to inside staging, how they’re harvested, where the coolers are located, and even where the offices and break rooms are located. Taking a close look at the engineering, right down to the footings and concrete is important. If the concrete separates, it becomes a hazard physically, functionally, and could also become a potential point of contamination. The department doesn’t dictate but suggests best practices. Because of their involvement with other facilities, the department and Goehring know what to look for and what to point out to avoid doing something that may be problematic. They also helped with the ‘enormous’ amount of paperwork, to ensure it wasn’t as much of a hassle for Roswech.
“John was great because he listened and took all those things to heed. That’s better than having someone have their own ideas and doing only that.
The largest expenses included the cooler and freezer space, and disposal of the gray water used to clean the facility each day. Roswech said he’s at the high end of his budget at $400 per square foot, equaling to 1.5 million for the building and another $500,000 for the equipment. He said securing a loan for a processing plant is difficult because it’s a challenge for the banks to appraise the value, given the monopoly over the industry and not many small to mid-size plants for comparison.
Similar to Mosbrucker, Goehring is enthusiastic about the benefits the plant will bring involving the creation of jobs and more processing access for local ranchers.
“It will also be a benefit for those producers that want to direct market themselves, or it’s product that will be purchased by South 40 and they’re going to market that primarily to the east, and the west coast markets where people will get a taste for really good meat. That’s the other side of the coin that’s a little bit different. I’ve eaten on the east and west coast, and it’s not that they have bad meat, but it’s not Midwest meat, and that’s a big deal.”
His past career in New York City provided Roswech with a bit of a different background than what is common in North Dakota, but it’s given him a unique perspective and inspiring drive to do right by the ranchers in our area. His passion to solve issues in the cattle industry and stand up for ranchers is outstanding, and his ability to bridge a gap evident between two very different parts of the country was nearly effortless. For his ambitions to create South 40 Beef, Mott was the perfect spot.
Numerous beef processing plants have been popping up across our region, thanks to those in the industry (or sometimes those outside, like Roswech) that recognize the dire need for them. Rumors of a plant in Gillette, Wyoming stemmed from a release of money with the CARES act, and there’s been a large interest in building one in the area, but at the time of this article being published, the city’s zoning department said there are no official plans yet.
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