OUR VOICE: Trying to find optimism in more woes at beef plant

Farm Forum

It has been a long, jagged, surreal journey for the beef plant.

The first public mention of such a plant in Aberdeen was in 2006. It sounded simple: Construction that fall with a possible opening in the spring.

A dream-like economic windfall for our community quickly spiraled into a nightmare. Many us over the years have heard our friends, neighbors and residents from across South Dakota snicker at us here in Aberdeen when the beef plant was brought up.

Even when it finally “opened” in 2012, the snickers continued and sometimes grew to public laughter.

Now, we find Northern Beef Packers on the road to bankruptcy court being followed by an already overflowing semi full of bad publicity. Whether we like it or not, our town, our beef plant — our problem.

Now is not the time to run, hide or divide. We have to find a way to turn a negative — and the beef plant filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy is one big negative — into a positive.

We always look at Aberdeen as a team. When a ton of bricks falls on one of teammates, we all should share in the heavy lifting to fix the problem. The more hands, the lighter the load.

We hope the bricks are done falling on our beef plant. The most recent bricks have caused significant damage. The Northern Beef Packers company owes money to 277 creditors locally, nationally and in South Korea.

That means those who are owed money are feeling pain. When you are hired to provide services or do a job for someone, you expect to get paid. When you don’t get paid, payment is delayed or less than expected, it negatively affects you, your family and your lifestyle. The money you were going to spend at a neighboring business might stay in your pocket.

Alaina Henning, manager of Diamond Vogel Paint in Aberdeen — one of the small businesses in Aberdeen with unpaid bills from the beef plant — said it best in Tuesday’s paper: “We were excited to bring them on as a customer. We had a good relationship. We put a lot of paint in that place. I am disappointed, I can’t lie. When they stopped needing paint, they stopped paying. Every month we would send a bill. When we called them, our calls would go unanswered. They have affected a lot of businesses that are part of Aberdeen.”

We also feel for the beef plant employees who have endured layoffs, delayed paychecks and shorter work weeks. Since the plant has opened, employees have been telling us their stories of woe. The worst for them seems to be the not knowing from day to day.

So now, we have a beef plant that has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, protecting it from its creditors until it can reorganize. A business can continue to operate under Chapter 11, unlike under Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which involves liquidation of a company.

An Aug. 8 deadline has been set for the Northern Beef Packers to file documents with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of South Dakota. A plan for reorganization must address the resolution of unpaid bills.

Herman Schumacher, a beef producer with operations in Herreid and Ipswich who has furnished cattle to the plant and who is owed money as well, said, “This is a tough situation, no doubt. I am very hopeful they can find their bearing and move on. This plant will not only be a benefit to Aberdeen, but the Dakotas and the entire region.”

That is a good attitude to take.

The Aberdeen beef plant is on yet another path with this reorganization. Hopefully, it leads us all to an abundant pasture full of sunny skies.

Otherwise, it seems to be running out of paths.