Tama beef plant has 'raised price of black cattle'

Iowa Ag Secretary Mike Naig visits Iowa Premium

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig (right) looks to Iowa Premium CEO Jeffrey Johnson to chime in in answering a que
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig (right) looks to Iowa Premium CEO Jeffrey Johnson to chime in in answering a question during a media availability after touring Iowa Premium in Tama, Iowa, on Wednesday, May 2, 2018. Naig toured the beef processing plant as part of a water quality tour. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

TAMA — The Iowa Premium beef processing plant near Tama has helped Iowa beef producers by expanding the market for sales, allowing some producers to upgrade barns and expand herds, producers and plant officials said.

But because the plant focuses on Black Angus beef, red-hided angus — substantially the same — has less value, producers said.

“It’s raised the price of black cattle,” Matt Jackson, who has a cow/calf operation near Garwin, said about Iowa Premium. “But I sure wish we could find a better market for Red Angus.”

Iowa Premium opened in November 2014, taking over a facility that had processed beef intermittently since 1971.

A $40 million renovation included a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment system and an animal handling facility designed by Temple Grandin, an animal science professor and livestock industry consultant featured in a 2010 biopic, CEO Jeffrey Johnson said Wednesday during a news conference with Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig.

“We’re not trying to feed the world,” Johnson said of the plant that processes 1,100 head of cattle a day. “Our consumers want something different. They can be comfortable these animals are cared for from birth to slaughter.”

Iowa Premium works with about 1,400 beef producers in the Midwest, focusing on small producers who are mindful of food safety and the environment, Johnson said.

The company processes upper two-thirds choice beef, which is the grade below premium, said Steve Armstrong, vice president for operations. Boxes are stamped with “certified angus beef,” leveraging the reputation Black Angus has for high quality.

“There’s a perception Black Angus cattle is higher quality,” said Patrick Hall, a beef specialist for the Iowa State University Extension. “It’s predominantly marketing.”

Red Angus cattle are a separate breed, Hall said, but they were developed from Black Angus and are substantially the same. Black Angus can be carriers for Red Angus genes, so two black cows could have a red calf, but two reds could not have a black calf, he said.

Iowa Premium employs more than 800 people, many of whom shook Armstrong’s hand or gave him a fist-bump as he led a tour of the facility. Photos or video by media were not allowed in the plant, but reporters could take notes to describe the process.

Freshly slaughtered carcasses are hung upside down in a cooler for 48 hours to lower the temperature from 90 degrees to about 32 degrees, Armstrong said. A cut made between the 12th and 13th ribs allows graders to decide the grade of beef for each cow. Workers remove the chuck from the carcass, then the rib-eye, followed by the rib loin and round.

Smaller pieces, including bones and offal, are packaged for sale in the United States and abroad, Johnson said.

He is planning a trip to Europe soon to find markets in the European Union for Iowa Premium products. The company also was certified last summer to sell beef to China.

Iowa has about 1,500 beef feeding operations, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Ben Novak, who feeds Holsteins in Tama County and is on the Tama County Cattlemen board, said Iowa Premium’s presence has meant better prices for Black Angus producers.


“There have been some expansions because of it,” he said. “It’s given everybody another opportunity to market their cattle locally and more competition for their bids.”

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