The proposed Prestage Foods pork processing plant near Eagle Grove will strengthen local markets for pigs, corn and soybeans, as well as provide jobs and much-needed economic development in north-central Iowa, farmers and others said last week during the public hearing in Clarion before the Wright County Board of Sup­ervisors.

"We’ve been working a long time to get back to the farm, and Prestage plant will give us a better chance to make that happen," said Grant Woodley of Clarion, a Wright County Farm Bureau member (pictured above with daughter Junia). "I really think the Prestage plant will make a very positive difference for a lot of younger farmers who want to raise livestock."

Woodley and his wife, Nicole, are in the process of building a hog barn as a way to return to the family farm near Clarion. "This is really an uncertain time with commodity prices and having another market close by would really help."

Dan Cramer, Wright County Farm Bureau president, told the Wright County supervisors that the Prestage plant’s positive impact will also be a big boost for area crop farmers. "We raise corn and soybeans, so that means we raise livestock feed," he said. "So an increase in the demand for livestock feed is good for us."

A boost for farmers

Corey Tweeten, another Wright County Farm Bureau member, agreed that the Prestage plant would help grain farmers along with those who raise livestock. "It’s going to provide the local markets that we need to make our corn and soybean more valuable."

Prior to the public hearing, the Wright County supervisors unanimously approved a zoning change for the plant, which would be located about 5 miles south of Eagle Grove. The three supervisors will hold additional hearings on the development agreements for the Prestage plant this month.

North Carolina-based Prestage Foods last month announced plans to build a pork processing plant in Wright County after a similar proposal was rejected in Mason City. The proposed Wright County hog processing plant, the company’s first pork processing plant, would employ more than 900 full-time employees at an average wage of more than $47,000 per year, plus benefits, the company said. The lowest paid workers, it said, would earn more than $37,000 per year with benefits.

The proposed Eagle Grove plant would process about 10,000 hogs per day in one 10-hour shift, operating five days a week.

Prestage has raised hogs in Iowa since 2014 and currently has barns in 30 counties, including Wright, and is a major buyer of Iowa corn and soybean meal, according to John Prestage, the company’s senior vice president. Prestage plans to use its farms for 45 percent of the pigs processed at the plant and will buy the remaining 55 percent on the open market.

"This will increase the competition for independent farmers and should translate into a better hog price," Prestage said prior to the public comment session in Clarion. "And it will keep the value of hogs processed here in the state of Iowa."

Raising livestock value

By raising the value of livestock, the Prestage plant would be a big help to farmers in Wright and surrounding counties, said J.D. Myers, Humboldt County Farm Bureau president.

"We moved back to the farm in 1998, and we could not have done that without the livestock industry," Myers told the Wright County supervisors. "And I’m hoping my kids have the same opportunities that we had."

Speakers at the Clarion hearing said the positive impact of the Prestage pork plant goes beyond agriculture and provide an economic boost in Wright County and in the surrounding counties. Along with 900 plus new jobs at the plant, the Prestage plant will spur added jobs in trucking, repairs shops and other businesses, making the area more attractive to young people, they said.

The company will also add $1.8 million annually in local tax revenues through the first 10 years and more than $2 million per year after tax abatements expire.

"This is a game-changer for us," said Mike Weland of the Eagle Grove City Council. "It’s been 40 years since a major industry has moved to Eagle Grove to create jobs, and creating jobs is the only way we are going to attract more people."

More jobs, people

David Young, a supervisor in neighboring Hamilton County, said he strongly supported the Prestage project because it will mean more jobs, more economic activity and more kids in the schools. "I’ve been on the church board in the small town of Jewell when we had to close our church because we didn’t have enough people. That was a difficult decision; this is not a difficult decision."

Troy Watne, a Wright County Farm Bureau member from Belmond, said the Prestage plant will be the key to attracting young people, like his college-age children, to return back to Wright County.

"There are really two reasons that people come back to a place like Wright County: family and jobs," Watne said. "We have the family. Now we need the jobs."