Jason Poole (left), complex manager at Tyson’s Dakota City, Nebraska plant and Dan Brooks, Tyson Fresh Meats’ senior vice president and general manager, beef enterprise. 

DAKOTA CITY, Neb. – Fifty years ago, what was then an IBP Inc.-owned plant, was a coveted employer in Dakota City and a highly regarded beef-processing complex throughout the industry. In 1987, MEAT+POULTRY published a feature story (Inside the Green Machine), focused on IBP’s plant, after Contributing Editor, Steve Kay toured the facility. Twenty-nine years later, M+P sent Kay back to Nebraska just days before Tyson commemorated the 50th year of beef-processing excellence at the plant. This operations-focused sequel is the cover story of M+P’s October issue. Following is an excerpt of the story that illustrates the evolution of what is still one of the industry’s highest profile beef processing facilities.

Mammoth milestone

The four-story office block is still the same and signals that you have arrived at Tyson’s Dakota City, Nebraska, beef complex. Then you get a glimpse of the massive plant hidden behind white-washed walls. But not until you pass a security desk and walk hundreds of yards down spotless corridors do you begin to get a sense that you are entering the belly of a giant.

The complex celebrated its 50th year of operations on Sept. 2 with a picnic for employees and invited guests. Three days earlier, the author joined Jason Poole, complex manager, and Dan Brooks, Tyson senior vice president and general manager of beef operations, on a private tour.

IBP and now Tyson Fresh Meats have always regarded the complex as its flagship beef plant. In M+P’s 1987 coverage of the plant, it was described it as the battleship of the IBP fleet. The plant then covered 600,000 sq. ft. and dominated the nearby community and the greater Sioux City, Iowa metropolitan area.

Today, the complex is a startling three times larger, so it might be more appropriate to call it an aircraft carrier. The complex has expanded from 18 acres on the ground to 29 acres. More impressively, the area under roof covers 42 acres and 1.8 million sq. ft. To achieve this and to install the very latest technologies in worker safety, ergonomics and food safety, Tyson Foods has spent $237 million in the past 10 years. Tyson Fresh Meats’ president Steve Stouffer could thus be forgiven for telling the picnic crowd that the complex is “the best, biggest and most important beef plant in the entire world.”

The plant dwarfs its neighborhood more than ever. Dakota City has a population of about 1,900. The complex employs 4,800 people at the plant and in the four-story office. Its annual payroll is $148 million. It locally spent $50 million in fiscal 2015, excluding livestock purchases. Tyson spent more than $2.5 billion in 2015 to buy area cattle to supply the plant.

   Some basic facts give an initial idea of the size of the complex. Tyson spent three years building a brand-new slaughter floor, which covers 150,000 sq. ft. It began first-shift operations in February 2015 and second shift operations in March. The old floor’s capacity was 4,800 head per day and the new floor’s capacity is 390 head per hour, which is just under 6,000 head per day over two shifts.

The carcass processing or fabrication floor, which Tyson completely rebuilt in 2006, covers 140,000 sq. ft. The upgrade combined three separate rooms into one. It has nine boning tables, with 1,100 employees per shift staffing the tables. The floor has the capacity to process 7,200 carcasses per day. It can produce up to 1,500 different products or SKUs (stock-keeping units).

Both the slaughter and fabrication floors recover bone, fat, trimmings, hides, offal and all other parts of the animal. Tyson turns these into 250 to 300 allied products that are used in the making of various foods, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and clothing. The complex’s extensive hide processing and tanning area includes blue chrome tanning. IBP was one of the first beef processors to adopt this process.

All this means a lot of beef to be shipped to customers in the US and all around the world. The plant produces enough beef in a single week to feed the population of Omaha (just under 450,000) for a year, Tyson President Tom Hayes told the anniversary picnic attendees. And the number of hides the factory harvests in a year would provide leather seating for 7,000 automobiles, he said.

    A first impression in walking the corridors to the slaughter floor is how Tyson has seamlessly woven the new into the old. Pristine white brick corridor walls were once the plant’s exterior walls. Even the original windows remain. The second impression upon entering the slaughter floor is how Tyson has incorporated openness, visibility and ergonomics into every part of its design.

Read the rest of M+P’s report on Tyson’s Dakota City plant in the October issue, which will be available digitally on
www.meatpoultry.com the week of Oct. 10, 2016.