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300 laid off as cattle shortage shuts South St. Paul beef plant

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Effective immediately, Dakota Premium Foods in South St. Paul is at least temporarily halting production at its beef processing plant due to an “extremely short cattle supply."

The Star Tribune reports that the shutdown idles 300 workers. Dakota Premium said it does not know how long the plant will be closed, but the head of the local union that represents workers there told the newspaper that he's “not confident” the plant will reopen.

“There aren’t enough cattle to kill, and beef plants across the country are working under capacity,” said Don Seaquist, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1189.

Dakota Premium also operates a beef plant in Long Prairie that employs about 400 union workers. Seaquist said that plant is working at full capacity, and up to 75 workers from the South St. Paul plant may end up filling openings there. The Long Prairie plant is configured differently and can process larger bulls, which the South St. Paul facility can’t handle, Seaquist said.

“We regret that the current limited cattle supplies, the smallest numbers since the early 1950s, [have] forced us to make this very difficult decision,” Dan Mehesan, president of Dakota parent ­American Foods Group’s fresh meat division, said in a statement.

The persistent drought in the western and Great Plains states is to blame for the cattle shortage and a steep rise in beef prices. The Pioneer Press reported that cattle herds have declined for eight straight years. The shortage has created problems throughout the meatpacking and beef processing industries.

KSTP added that the shutdown has the attention of state legislators. DFL Representatives Dan Schoen and Rick Hansen and Sens. Katie Sieben and Jim Metzen issued a joint press release saying in part, "we will be following up with company officials and local leaders to find any possible solutions for the workers who are impacted by this closure."

Last year, Minnesota-based Cargill permanently closed its Plainview, Texas, beefpacking plant, citing "the tight cattle supply brought about by years of drought in Texas and the southern plains." The move laid off 2,000 workers there.

South St. Paul was once the heart of the meatpacking industry in the Upper Midwest. By the early 1980s, giant plants operated by Swift and Armour had closed.

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