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Federal funds aim to boost local meatpacking industry

Cole Mannix, co-founder of Old Salt Co-op, and Sen. John Tester in Helena April 20, 2022.
Shaylee Ragar
Montana Public Radio
Cole Mannix, co-founder of Old Salt Co-op, and Sen. John Tester in Helena April 20, 2022.

More than half a dozen Montana meat processors are getting federal funding to boost local meatpacking. Montana Sen. Jon Tester highlighted in Helena Wednesday the projects as commercial beef prices reach record highs.

Old Salt Co-op is one of 17 meat processing projects that received a portion of $7.8 million in federal stimulus money to boost their goal of providing a direct to consumer meat market.

Cole Mannix, a co-founder of the project, says the $150,000 allocated to Old Salt will help the processing operation scale up to the next level to compete with larger national packers.

“Instead of marketing a hundred or a couple hundred animals, you’ve got to start marketing a couple of thousand if you’re going to pay for the brick and mortar it takes to process under inspection,” he says.

Mannix said the project is a $6 million venture, so while the federal money helps, it doesn’t cover all the costs.

Gov. Greg Gianforte announced last month that the amount of meat processed in Montana doubled in the last year. Montana politicians have made several recent bipartisan pushes to advocate for local processing projects.

Sen. Tester says the meatpacking industry is broken with four companies holding a monopoly controlling the market.

“You know, capitalism works. But it only works if you have competition.” 

Tester says there are a number of bills working their way through Congress aimed at this issue, including the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act introduced last year. Tester and Sen. Steve Daines are co-sponsors of the bill.

Tester says he thinks there will be enough votes to move that policy forward after a committee hearing next week.

Shaylee is Montana Public Radio's Capitol reporter. She previously worked for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and covered the 2019 legislative session for the University of Montana's Legislative News Service.
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