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Beefing up funding for The Producer Partnership

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Beefing up funding for The Producer Partnership

Left to right: Stacey Brown, Billings Family Services director; Kris Pierson and Matt Pierson, co-founders of The Producer Partnership

Livingston rancher, beef producer and multi-tasker Matt Pierson took questions while shoveling gravel to pour cement for The Producer Partnership, Inc.’s new upcoming beef processing plant at his Highland Livestock ranch, located 12 miles east of town.

“This will be the first federally inspected, fully purchased and operated non-profit processing facility in the US.” said Pierson, the sound of gravel hitting its target over the phone call.

The modular plant, scheduled for set-up by the end of December, is a dream come true for Pierson, his wife Kris Pierson and partner Dan Walker – leaders of an all-volunteer five-member nonprofit board, whose ultimate mission is to help end hunger throughout Montana.

The Town Pump Charitable Foundation donated $30,000 to The Producer Partnership that will make a big dent in processing the donated meat.

“Not bad for an organization founded only nine months earlier,” said Pierson. “Since the beginning of February 2021, we have received, processed, and distributed over 20,000 pounds of meat, supported by generous operating cost donations.”

The new USDA-approved, local plant will allow the organization to process on-site its own beef, rather than outsourcing it to other processing plants, which can get expensive.

“Creating a local, USDA-approved nonprofit facility bolsters our work, but does not compete with other small Montana-based processors,” said Pierson.

All the hamburger then is donated locally and to the Montana Food Bank Network. The Livingston Food Resource Center was the first recipient.

Generous ranchers donate their “cull” cattle to the cause, then The Producer Partnership facilitates the processing of the meat.

“The donated $30,000 is to help for processing, so we use that money,” Pierson said. “We’ve already used most of it up on processing. We have not stopped processing animals, even though we’re building this (plant).”

"This protein is so important and provides tremendous nutritional value found in Montana grown and raised, high-quality, beef and pork which otherwise they would not be able to afford." - Brent Weisgram Vice President / COO Montana Food Bank Network

As of November, The Producer Partnership’s ongoing capital campaign had raised nearly $2 million of a $2.2 million goal to cover the operations budget for the new processing facility, he said. A long list of donors big and small appears at ProducerPartnership.com.

“Last year, we turned away more live animals than I’d like to admit because we couldn’t find and kill and process date, so we were forced to go to an expensive processor out of state. I knew we needed something of our own to reduce processing fees, insure we could process animals on demand, and if we truly want to end hunger in Montana, at least with hamburger, we needed our own processing plant.”

The Montana Food Bank Network next takes the reigns.

“Then we recover the donations when ready and use our statewide distribution network of over 150 statewide community pantries, shelters, and senior centers, who then ensure it is getting to those truly in need,” said Brent Weisgram, MFBN vice president/COO.

Currently, Producer Partnership contracts with federally inspected processing plants, including Yellowstone River Beef in Williston, ND, which he called “awesome.”

“Within the next month, we’ll begin the long process of putting (the plant) together. The best way to think of it is as a giant Lego set. It will have the capacity of doing 15 head of cattle per day and it will be a multi-use facility -- everything from a goat to a bison. We have processed some other animals, but getting them in to these other facilities due to hunting season is pretty much impossible.”

Pierson, a fifth-generation cattle ranch-statewide network of farmers and ranchers working to end hunger in Montana.

In 2020 alone, after Pierson and friend conjured the idea for the nonprofit, 28 donor-producers and the Produce Partnership processed 138 animals, generating 53,345 pounds of donated meat to those experiencing food insecurity.

“We’re hitting the high time of the year…the end of the year when people start culling other animals. Everything goes into the foodbank; everything we do will help with the holidays.”

On top of those stunning numbers, a total of 64 individuals, foundations and corporations contributed $150,794 in cash, covering all the costs of animal processing for the year.

The Producer Partnership processes custom beef orders, too, and sells directly to the consumer.

“That’s the farm-to-plate business model that we work with,” said Pierson.

Partnerships with several key players in the beef industry bolsters the organization’s gravitas: Northern Ag Network, Montana Beef Council, American Farm Bureau and the Montana Stock Growers Association endorses the building firm north of Seattle is constructing the modular unit, eventually moved to Livingston for set-up sometime during the holidays.

Pierson, who serves as president of The Producer Partnership board alongside Vice President Walker, Treasurer Kris Pierson and board members Scott Kessler and Anne Buckley, foresees great production in the near future.

“We hope to start processing our donated livestock by the end of 2021. Phase One of our processing plant will have the capacity to process up to 300 animals per month, easily meeting the protein needs of all Montanans served by the Montana Food Bank Network,” said Pierson.

As for production, The Producer Partnership had secured 22,822 pounds of hamburger as of mid-November leading up to the holidays to provide Montana Food Bank Network, located in Missoula. “Our second-year stretch goal is provide the MFBN with 106,700 pounds of hamburger for the entire year,” he said. “Under the current processing fee ($3 per pound), it will cost $320,000 to process all this meat,” he said.

Deep in the middle of the holidays, hunting season and winter, Producer Partnership and dedicated donors –such as Town Pump – volunteers, board directors, producers and collaborative processors provide much-needed food for Montanans struggling with food insecurity.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

producerpartnership.com

facebook.com/ProducerPartnership

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