Pork industry: Processing Prestage

10,000 hogs could be processed per shift

-Submitted photo
Work progresses at the massive Prestage Foods of Iowa pork processing plant that is being built in Wright County.

EAGLE GROVE — The 10,000 hogs that will be processed per shift at Prestage’s $300 million pork plant will produce fresh meat cuts that will be distributed to suppliers who will then make certain meats such as ham and bacon, according to Jere Null, Prestage’s chief operating officer.

The plant is scheduled to open in November or December.

“We will target customers, other suppliers who have fresh meat needs,” Null said. “There’s a lot of them in the state and in the Midwest.”

Grocery retailers in Iowa are also potential customers, Null said.

Prestage’s main products will include: pork loins, pork bellies, Boston butts, shoulder picnics, pork tenderloins, baby back ribs, and spare ribs.

-Photo by Chad Thompson
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds visited the Prestage site during warmer weather.

“It’s all the fresh meat cuts,” Null said. “We will sell hams, but most of our hams will go to people that make pure hams, sandwich hams, spiral hams, because we will do no cooking.”

He added, “We will be the supplier to those kind of companies. We won’t make the bacon, we will sell the pork bellies. We will sell to whoever makes the bacon.”

Null said Prestage would have some branded retail meat.

“We are also a company, in our turkey operations, we do a lot of private label,” he said. “We participate in private label and branded meat labels.”

Up to 30 percent of Prestage’s products will be exported. The top export markets will be Mexico, China, and Japan.

-Submitted photo
The Prestage Foods of Iowa site near Eagle Grove is pictured in this image taken by a drone.

About 60 percent of hogs will come from existing Prestage farms in Iowa.

The remaining 40 percent will come from independent producers.

Prestage, a North Carolina-based company, has been operating in Iowa since 2004. It owns 145 farms in the state.

In terms of the byproducts of the plant, Prestage will operate an inedible rendering plant, Null said.

“That will make animal feed, choice white grease, which is mainly sold to feed mills for animal feed,” he said. “That’s what you do with most the inedible — the bones and the skin.”

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Work progresses at the massive Prestage Foods of Iowa pork processing plant that is being built in Wright County.

Null also said some of the excess product will be used to make Heparin, a blood thinner for humans.

“That blood thinner is made largely from byproducts of a pig,” he said. “We will sell pig blood plasma. Everything gets sold.”

More than 50 full-load refrigerated trucks will be traveling to and from the plant, 4 miles south of Eagle Grove, each day when it becomes operational, according to Null.

“As a single shift operation, which is the way we will start, it will be in excess of 50 trucks a day,” Null said, adding those trucks will come from outside companies.

“We have talked with a number of local and regional trucking companies to help supply that need,” he said. “We will not run our own trucks. We will hire outside firms to handle our trucking needs.”

Inside the state-of-the-art plant, 1,050 workers will be employed.

The development agreement between Prestage and Wright County requires that the company employ at minimum 922 workers.

A 2017 economic impact study conducted by Goss & Associates Economic Solutions, of Denver, Colorado, projects about 30 percent of workers to be foreign-born. It predicts 43 percent of foreign-born Latino workers will speak exclusively Spanish.

Plans call for one 10-hour shift, five days per week, and some Saturday shifts.

The lowest-paid workers are to start at $13 per hour, while the average wage will be $15.71 per hour.

Average annual wages are projected to be $47,000.

The average annual income in Wright County is about $26,000.

The site of the plant was selected in part because of the estimated 6.5 million hogs that are marketed within 250 miles of the plant, according to information provided by Prestage.

The plant will be capable of processing 10,000 hogs per shift. About 600 million pounds of pork will be processed annually.

The plant’s processes will be highly advanced, according to Null.

Wasted heat will be radiated through the floors to reach the pigs.

“That’s very innovative,” he said. “Most people don’t do that. It’s a secondary use of heat that would normally just be released out of smoke stack. This provides warmth to the animals.”

Advanced robotics and high-powered waterjet cutters will slice different cuts of meat.

The high-pressure water system can slice through meat and bone.

The robots that will be used will ease the burden on employees, according to Null.

The plant will use an estimated 25 percent less water than a plant built 10 years ago, he said.

Smells that are typically associated with similar facilities will also be diminished.

“Odor is something a lot of people know from older packing plants,” Null said. “This plant has a piece of equipment called a thermal oxidizer, which essentially incinerates odors before they are discharged to the atmosphere.”

He said it’s only the fourth such unit to be used in the industry.

“It’s a very modern piece of equipment,” he said, adding the incinerator burns at 1,600 degrees.

“It basically incinerates the particulates in the air, which are the source of the odor,” he said. “When the air comes out, it’s clean. It doesn’t smell.”

He added, “We are covering our wastewater lagoons and capturing the methane gas that comes out of them, which is a source of odor. We will actually take that gas and burn it in a boiler as an energy source.”

Construction on the Prestage site began in March 2017 on 150-plus acres of land. It is located northwest of the intersection at Iowa Highway 17 and 320th Street. It is roughly a 20-minute drive from Fort Dodge.

Epstein Global, headquartered in Chicago, is the general contractor for the project.

Jensen Builders, Ltd., of Fort Dodge, Woodruff Construction, LLC, of Fort Dodge, Fort Dodge Asphalt, and McClure Engineering, are some contractors who have completed work at the site.

“They have all had a big presence at the plant,” Null said.

Some of the plant is concrete precast, and some is insulated wall panels.

The plant will have a maximum height of 45 feet, according to information on Epstein Global’s website.

Prestage has been in talks with Iowa Central Community College about workforce training.

The program used by Iowa Central to train workers is called Iowa Industrial New Jobs. It provides flexible funding for employee training for new jobs created.

The program is financed through bonds sold by Iowa’s 15 community colleges, according to the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

Iowa Central Community College President Dan Kinney said the program comes at no cost to Iowa taxpayers.

The length of training needed to gain employment at Prestage will vary based on the individual and the position at the company.

Null said the company will make a “serious hiring push” at the start of summer.

Applications are being accepted at prestagefoodsof iowa.com.

Roads near Prestage to be improved

A series of pavement projects will be taking place in the spring to improve the roads leading to the Prestage plant.

One project involves resurfacing Wright County Road C56 from the border of Webster and Wright counties to Iowa Highway 17.

Wright County Road C56 is the road directly to the south of Prestage. It runs east to west.

Turn lanes and deceleration lanes will also be added at the intersection of C56 and Iowa Highway 17.

On C56, a right-hand turn lane allowing traffic to turn right onto Iowa Highway 17 and a lane that allows a left-hand turn onto the highway are to be added.

There will also be a right-hand turn lane southbound on Iowa Highway 17.

Bryce Davis, Eagle Grove city administrator, said the improvements would cost about $3 million.

Webster County also has plans to resurface C56 from Vincent east to the Wright County line.

Elsewhere in Wright County, the Iowa Department of Transportation has plans to resurface a 4-mile stretch of road that connects Goldfield to Eagle Grove.

Pavement on Iowa Highway 17 from 12th Street Northwest in Eagle Grove to Iowa Highway 3 in Goldfield will be completely torn out and replaced.

The estimated cost of those improvements is $5 million.

The highway will be closed when construction begins.

Through traffic on Iowa Highway 17 will be detoured using Second Street Northeast in Eagle Grove and Wright County roads C54 and R33.

That construction is estimated to take between three and four months.

Additional road improvements are also scheduled for inside Eagle Grove city limits.

There are also plans to resurface C70 from Woolstock to Iowa Highway 17.