DODGE CITY, Kan. – Cargill Meat Solutions plans to downsize the workforce at the company's Dodge City plant because of tight supplies of cattle. The final number of layoffs has not been confirmed, but local news reports say roughly 300 employees could be affected.

"Our analysis of the cattle supply for the next few years projects continued tight supplies as the herd begins to rebuild from the recent drought conditions," said Mark Klein, Cargill spokesman. "Aligning production with the available supply for harvest will enable the plant to run more efficiently.

"We have been talking to employees this week and do not have a firm number on how many could be laid off or reassigned," he added. "What we do know is that these decisions are never easy, and we looked at every possible option to avoid having to do this."

Cargill will recall laid off workers in the bargaining unit as openings occur through attrition, Klein said. The number of employees remaining at the plant will still be well above 2,000.

Persistent drought conditions followed by severe winter weather have resulted in the smallest US cattle herd in more than 60 years. The US Department of Agriculture's Jan. 31 Cattle report indicated cattle and calves totaled 87.7 million as of Jan. 1, 2014, down 2 percent from 89.3 million from a year ago and the lowest Jan. 1 inventory of all cattle and calves since the 82.1 million head recorded in 1951.

Cargill will continue investing in the Dodge City beef plant. In August 2013, the company announced plans to add an automated order distribution system at the facility.

"Dodge City continues to be an integral part of the beef business for Cargill," Klein said. "We are continuing our investment in the Dodge City plant. Work continues on the $50 million box distribution facility currently under construction. When complete, this addition will improve the operational efficiency and customer service levels at this location."