The Prairie Farmers Cooperative has begun processing hogs at its $5.5 million packing plant at Dawson, MN.

The planning for the 290-head/day plant began five years ago, when 80 western Minnesota pork producers decided they would find an alternative way to market their hogs.

Construction began two years ago and was completed late last year. The plant will employ 40 people at maximum capacity.

With the plant built, the next step is capturing more value for producers, says Dennis Timmerman, chairman of the cooperative and a 100-sow farrow-to-finish producer from Boyd, MN.

“The plant is reality; now we need to execute our mission to add value to our members hogs,” he says. “Our business plan provides for phased start-up depending on market development. The plant should be at full capacity in about a year.”

Randy Wallerich, the cooperative's marketing manager, targets his efforts on foodservice and retail stores in Minnesota.

Many of the cooperative's customers are smaller, multiple-store grocery chains and individual grocery stores in the rural areas of the state. The first goal is to give the consumers a taste of the product, he says.

“We will start in retail to get the product out there and show consumers what we have to offer,” Wallerich says.

The plant is equipped to produce smoked meats — ham, bacon, sausages — along with primal cuts. Wallerich also expects the cooperative to use co-packing, where products are marketed under an existing brand name for another company.

When the plant reaches capacity of 290 hogs/day, the cooperative projects it will market 1 million lb. of pork each month.