Before I hie myself back to final revisions: Today the Des Moines Register reported that Tyson Foods plans to close its slaughtering facility in Denison, Iowa. I note this for two reasons:
First, by coincidence I’m in the midst of revising the chapter in which I recount the founding of IBP and the construction of the Denison packing plant, which began operating on March 21, 1961. It was IBP’s first facility, and was, at the time, a marvel of modernity. It wasn’t the only such modern marvel among packing plants, but it helped push IBP to the top of the beef-packing heap just a few years later.
But second, the article is interesting (to me) for the reason that Tyson gave for the closure: The decline in local supplies of cattle.
If only Iowa cattle feeders had listened to IBP’s honchos back in 1965! Four years into it, IBP executives realized they’d made a rare miscalculation: Iowa cattle feeders couldn’t provide the company with enough livestock to keep the plant running at capacity.
The company drew on cattle from a four-state area, which added to its costs, so IBP’s executives urged Iowans to feed more efficiently, pointing out, correctly, that they were being clobbered by cattle feeders in Texas, Colorado, Kansas, and other western states. Feeders in those states had the advantage of better climate, cheaper feed grains (primarily sorghum, which was far cheaper than corn), and a more efficient feeding system.
That led IBP to announce plans to build a state-of-the-art, confined cattle feedlot, less because it wanted to get into feeding than because it hoped doing so would inspire/encourage Iowans to modernize their feeding practices. The response? Iowans lobbied a Congressional representative to introduce legislation that would ban packers from feeding livestock.
Several years later, IBP finally opened the feedlot, but in conjunction with Iowa State University, which operated it as a research facility. And the then-president of IPB wrote to an Iowa Senator warning, again, that if Iowans didn’t move with the times, they would lose their cattle feeding industry to western feeders.
They didn’t, and now they have. The whole story is more complex than that, but, hey, I gotta go finish revising that very tale, And you can read more about it when the book comes out.