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Producer Partnership looks to work with ranchers in Western Montana

by MONTE TURNER
Mineral Independent | March 13, 2024 12:00 AM

The idea started in 2020. The demand for beef was very high and the availability of processing could not keep up. 

Matt Pierson, a fifth-generation Montana rancher out of Livingston, witnessed how hard Covid was on their community and wanted to help. So he and his family decided to take a few of their own cull cows, get them processed and donate the beef. 

“Matt reached out to a few of his neighbors and friends in the area and asked if they wanted to make a cull animal donation as well," said Jeri Delys, Producer Partnership program manager. "The program took off on its own and other producers in the nearby areas began calling Matt and dropping their cull animals off in his corrals to be processed and donated to the local food bank.”

From there, a dedicated board of volunteer members was formed, and the Producer Partnership was founded as a nonprofit organization that processes cull livestock to donate to local schools and food banks.

In the beginning, local meat processors in the state were all wrestling with the effects of Covid. Processing dates were at a standstill and there was no availability to get cull animals processed. 

Pierson was hauling animals to Williston, North Dakota to get the processing done. 

“Matt and the board decided they needed to take destiny into their own hands and the logical solution was to develop a processing plant,” Delys explained. “They knew they needed flexibility with the plant so they decided on a modular facility on Matt’s family ranch operation, Highland Livestock Company.” 

The modular facility allows for easy expansion to tackle future needs and growth of the program.

The process is simple. A rancher selects an animal from their herd to donate. The Producer Partnership coordinates the pickup or drop off location for cull animal donations. The animal must be able to walk into their facility where it will be processed into ground protein at the federally inspected processing plant. 

Beef, sheep, pigs, goats and bison are the livestock they work with. They cover the processing costs, and the producer receives a tax benefit letter for the contribution. Donations can be made to a local school lunch program, or to a charity in a community of the donor’s choice. If the donor does not have a preference for the contribution, the protein is donated to Montana Food Bank Network.

“While I was working as the executive director of the Montana Stockgrowers Association Foundation, I became aware of the Producer Partnership, shares Delys. “Matt and I worked on a couple of projects together. I knew I wanted to be involved in the organization. There are few opportunities that allow you to make a difference and an impact in your career across the state. I wanted the opportunity to help. The timing worked out, and I was hired as the Program Manager in March of 2023,” she said with a smile.  

“We have seen donations come in from all across Montana, with the exception of many areas in western Montana. We want to change that,” she expressed. “The beauty of our program is we honor our mission statement of farmers and ranchers working together to end hunger in Montana by working with people who want to make a cull animal donation.” 

Delys lives in Frenchtown and was explaining the program to several cattlemen from Mineral County at the Missoula Chamber of Commerce Ag Banquet recently. She hopes people in Mineral and Sanders counties see what a service this is and will want to help make an impact on the one in 12 people in Montana that experience food insecurity. 

She said that they do not accept hay or alfalfa, but welcome monetary donations and are always looking for volunteers that can help them pickup donations across the state.

The Producer Partnership is the nation’s first and only USDA federally inspected owned and operated 501C (3) nonprofit processing facility. To date, the Producer Partnership has donated more than 250,000 pounds of protein to Montana Food Bank Network, shelters, veterans’ pantries, and senior centers across Montana. Montana Food Bank Network is the program’s main distribution partner, as they serve all 56 counties across Montana.  Visit online at producerpartnership.com.

    Jeri Delys lives in Frenchtown and is the program Manager for The Producer Partnership based in Livingston, Montana. This is the first of its kind in the private sector of helping the hungry and providing a tax incentive to ranchers who care to donate a cull animal to their organization.