Oklahoma beef patties and other beef products could be heading to retail stores and foreign markets, in the near future, if a producer-owned cow and bull processing facility proves feasible.

If so, a group of state cattlemen plans to build the state's only such plant for a value-added enterprise.

The group has formed the American Native Beef Steering Committee and was recently awarded a $195,000 Value Added Marketing Research and Development Grant through U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development.

"The purpose of this grant is to help meet the expenses involved in exploring the viability of new value-added projects," said Brent Kisling, state director of USDA Rural Development. "

American Native Beef competed with over 200 applications for projects throughout the nation. Their receiving one of only 28 grants awarded is indicative of the organization of the group and the merit of this project."

Besides receiving the grant, the American Native Beef project has found support from a variety of other groups, said Mason Mungle, chairman of the project's steering committee.

"This is a 50-50 matching grant and we have received a great deal of in-kind commitments from groups, like the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Oklahoma State University, the Oklahoma Farmers Union, the Choctaw Nation and the Oklahoma Farm Bureau," he said. "Now, we need rancher-investors to show support for the project."

State ranchers are being asked to contribute $100 each to assist in funding a feasibility study, said Mungle. So far, about 150 cattlemen have joined the effort and Steering Committee members would like to see at least 100 more join.

Their $100 donation is not an actual investment, but will be applied toward an initial stock purchase once the project is determined to be financially sound.

"We believe the demand for high quality, value-added beef products is going to continue to increase and this is an opportunity for Oklahoma cattlemen to finally realize a little more profit from each food dollar," Mungle said. "Today, when a rancher sells a cow for slaughter, it is sent out of state. We can save a significant portion of the shipping costs, which should, in turn, help boost prices at state auction markets."

Even more returns could be realized from the actual sale of value-added beef products, he added. Producer-owned cooperative efforts, such as American Native Beef, have earned investors 20 to 30% return in many cases.

"It has worked well for pasta and frozen dough products and we are confident it will work well for Oklahoma beef," Mungle said. "If you are selling slaughter cows for 45 cents per pound and want to cash in on some of the profits after it is processed, this program is for you."

Producers wishing to invest in the feasibility study should contact Mungle, at (405) 491-1594. For more information on this project or other cooperative activities, contact Gary Bledsoe, Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, at (405) 522-5515.

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