KANSAS CITY, Mo. – While recently driving west on rural US Rte. 30 on the southern outskirts of Schuyler, Neb., I first saw it way off to the left on the horizon. It was impossible to miss Cargill’s sprawling 577,000-sq.-ft. beef complex. Totaling more than seven acres under one roof, this slaughter/fabrication facility sits on a much larger 107-acre site. As impressive as its massive footprint is, what transpires inside the plant, where 2,200 employees harvest and process 900,000 tons of beef products per year, is far more impressive. 


 Bryan Salvage

For those employed at packing plants, you already know so well that it takes solid leadership and close teamwork to successfully fulfill boatloads of varying orders day after day; and the larger the plant, the greater the challenges. Gazing down upon the hustle and bustle of the harvesting and processing floors from a series of catwalks high above the plant floor (which is not suggested for those suffering from acrophobia), the chaotic yet synchronized scene below resembled a Beef City where thousands of people were pushing and pulling in the same direction to keep massive amounts of beef flowing two production shifts a day, five days a week. As a result, more than 1,000 SKUs of beef products are produced under iconic Cargill beef brands, plus a number of private-label brands. Products produced at Schuyler are sold throughout the Americas and in Asia, notably Japan and South Korea.

This plant produces a dizzying array of products. The product produced most is fresh boxed beef, explained Jarrod Gillig, vice president and general manager of the facility. “We make somewhere around 8.8 boxes of beef products per head of cattle,” he added. “Each box will include anywhere from two to 12 bags of beef. We go through a lot of boxes and bags.”

Feeding the product pipeline is quite a task. Consistently sized cattle arrive at the plant daily from 7 am to 10 pm on approximately 140 semi-trucks. This facility processes 5,100 head per day.

Maintaining and enhancing food safety is critical throughout the plant. A battery of leading-edge technologies and interventions ensure the beef remains safe and wholesome throughout the process. The plant has also achieved ISO 14001 (environmental) and 18001 (safety) certifications.

Real-time video monitoring of animal-handling and intervention technologies take place in the Video War Room. And Schuyler’s automated distribution center, which added 40,000 sq. ft. in 2010, was amazing to watch in action. An automated box handling and computerized shipping system have replaced a manually operated system. The new system supports 53,000 box storage locations and can deliver boxes either as pallets or as a box stream to be floor-loaded and can build mixed SKU pallet loads.

While out on the floor, one young man skillfully broke down one portion of a carcass as quickly as a hot knife cutting through butter time and time again on the line without ever looking up, slowing down or breaking a sweat. I kept thinking to myself that I’d last about five minutes if I were in his shoes…he exhibited something I saw in many of the workers at that facility…a passion for his job.

Throughout the plant tour, all plant managers repeatedly lauded their employees for the continuing success of the Schuyler facility. While on a catwalk high above the fabrication floor at the end of the tour, Gillig grinned and said while scanning hundreds of folks working the lines and tables below, “Our team is highly skilled; they make it all look so easy.” Indeed they did.

Read more about Cargill Inc.’s Schuyler, Neb. beef plant exclusively in the December issue of Meat&Poultry magazine.