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High River Builds a Sustainable Beef Business 

A new Cargill beef plant in Canada finds success with eco-friendly processing practices. 

January 01, 2015

Just south of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, there is a town named for the Highwood River that cuts through it. High River is well known—not just in Canada, but around the world—because of the beef processing plant that Cargill operates there. It is one of the most environmentally sustainable facilities of its kind, featuring a system that transforms processing waste into renewable energy. The plant also employs thousands, making High River a multicultural facility representing nearly 80 nationalities.

When Cargill entered Canada in 1928, it worked primarily with grain. By the 1980s, company leaders were actively exploring opportunities to serve boxed beef customers and expand into new markets. It inspired the vision for Cargill’s first beef processing facility in Canada, which would be the company’s largest investment in the country to date. Cargill has invested more than $200 million in the facility over the years, demonstrating the company’s commitment to the market, the community and sustainability.

While the 175,000-square-foot facility took shape, a small group of people from Excel Corporation, Cargill Limited and other Canadian packing companies came together to form Team Canada. They traveled throughout the United States and worked at a number of meat processing facilities, researching and developing sustainable procedures for High River.

The plant opened in 1989, starting with about 1,400 employees working one shift to process 1,200 head of cattle per day. Over the years, the facility grew to employ more than 2,000 people on two shifts, processing 4,500 head of cattle daily. It soon became the largest beef processing facility in the country.

Cargill has partnered with Ducks Unlimited Canada to develop conservation programs that create a healthier environment for waterfowl while enhancing Cargill’s operations. The partners’ integrated wastewater treatment program treated wastewater from the High River facility, then fed it into nearby Frank Lake, transforming the area into an important wetlands habitat for local wildlife. Decades later, in 2011, High River made a major push to reduce its environmental footprint. Cargill installed a waste-to-fuel system to convert organic waste into electrical power and steam. Methane was captured in covered waste lagoons, then safely burned as fuel rather than being released into the atmosphere. Cargill’s High River plant also received its ISO 14001 certification, further demonstrating its focus on environmental conservation.

High River recently celebrated its 25-year anniversary, representing US $2 billion in annual cattle purchases, and one-third of the nation’s processed beef. The High River plant has led to strong growth for Cargill, and continues to serve as a global model for sustainable beef processing. Approximately 50% of the facility’s energy comes from renewable sources, fueling the production of beef products to a wide variety of retail and foodservice customers, serving domestic and international markets.