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Cargill Friona - 45 years later

By Jon Surman, AVP, General Manager

In preparation for this article, I decided to look back 45 years and read what was written about the first day of operations at our facility. It is amazing how the industry has changed and grown over the last 45 years. Excitement was building about a state-of-the-art facility, the largest of its kind in the world, inaugurating beef production in a plant that Frionans could be proud to call their own. Even though much has changed, some things have changed very little. In the original plans we employed 250 people and processed nearly 1,500 head of cattle daily. Today, our team is comprised of nearly 2,000 people and we process 1,500 cattle by lunch break on our first shift. I wonder what employees from the plant’s past would think if they could see us now?

The original plant was built at a cost of $3 million dollars. Seven years ago, we spent more than eight times that amount - $25 million - on an automated box distribution center. Costs have certainly increased as technology has improved and the price of materials and labor have also increased. The goal at the time was to process 7,000 head per week and ship out sides of beef to the marketplace. Today, we process nearly 5,000 head per day (25,000 weekly), and fabricate every piece into a cut that becomes boxed beef, cure the hides, render the by-products, treat our wastewater, and produce and use methane biogas for heating water used to sanitize the plant. We commonly say that we process everything but the “Moo”.

The article from 1968 also stated that there were more than 1 million head of cattle on feed in our three-state area. Today, Texas Cattle Feeders Association shows just over 2 million on feed in the Texas Panhandle alone, and more than 7 million in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. The cattle feeding industry has been as big a part of our success over the past 45 years as any factor. It has changed with the times, now using automated feeding technology and shipping thousands of head of cattle for harvesting within a few hours. Many of the yards feed 20,000 to 50,000 head of cattle at a time, with a small number feeding more than 100,000 head. Our strategy was to operate beef processing plants close to the cattle supply, provide jobs for the community and invest in the community to make it a better place to live and conduct business. I believe it has worked so far.

Earlier this year, there was a major change to the beef processing industry when Cargill made the painful and difficult decision to idle our Plainview plant due primarily to drought-related cattle supply constraints. Yet, for Friona it has provided us with an opportunity to show what we can do to serve our customers. The idling of Plainview also allowed us to increase the weekly number of run hours in our facility, providing a full weekly paycheck for our employees. We have significantly increased our running hours and through-put of cattle and beef products, which helps our customers, our employees in Friona and surrounding communities.

During this evolution we have also built one of the best safety cultures and engaged workforces in the company and the industry. We are proud of the 45-year journey Cargill has taken with the community, and how we have evolved during that time. We are equally optimistic about the future of the beef business and our operation at Friona. This year, there are several very exciting new plant investments in the planning phase that will make us more efficient, cost competitive, and better prepared for the future. Thank you for the past 45 years and join us in celebrating the many years to come.