New owner plans to reopen Alberta beef plant

An Alberta beef plant closed since 2007, could be reopened next year.

The former Rancher’s Beef plant at Balzac, Alta., owned by Sunterra Farms, will be sold to Vesta Holdings, a Colorado investment company as of Nov. 1.

Vesta owner Rich Vesta predicts the facility could be open by next June, following $18 million worth of renovations, but he said it is not likely to function at full capacity of 800 head for some time. He did not disclose the selling price.

“We have a very disciplined approach to how we start this plant up and we won’t be in full production for the better part of a year,” Vesta said.

The plant was inactive since Sunterra bought it from the receiver at the end of 2007.

The plant will be called Harmony Beef. The brand will emphasize Alberta fed beef.

The company plans to pursue niche markets and achieve organic and European Union certification.

“We don’t intend to be a commodity beef producer.”

Vesta said the company is looking to hire 275 to 325 people to work in the plant.

The plant was built during a time when many groups wanted to construct processing plants to address the oversupply of cattle due to the lack of international markets after BSE was discovered in Canada. Few got off the ground, mostly due to lack of capital.

Rancher’s Beef raised $32 million from 47 producer investors but only survived for 14 months.

Alberta beef producers expressed optimism about the announcement that the plant would reopen.

“This couldn’t come at a better time,” said Bryan Walton, chief executive officer of the Alberta cattle feeders association.

Tyson Foods recently announced it would no longer accept fed cattle from Canada at its Pasco, Washington, plant due to uncertainty over the mandatory country of origin labelling law in the U.S. That means there are fewer bidders for Canadian cattle, although Tyson indicated it would still accept foreign born cattle being fed in the United States.

Many Alberta cattle producers are already familiar with Vesta from when he was at Packerland Packing in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and later at JBS in Greely, Colorado.

“He has got his feet on the ground. He is the real deal. Guys like this don’t come around everyday that have had the experience and know how to make money and turnarounds at plants. He knows the business,” said Walton.

Cattle feeders chair Brent Chaffee said having another processing plant will benefit producers.

“Even if we are not directly selling cattle to him, if they are taking supply out of the market that does drive up the bids a bit,” he said.

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