Tyson Fresh Meats will furlough workers at some of its midwest packing plants including one in Denison. Corporate spokesman Gary Mickelson says these are “unusual times” for the beef industry. Mickelson says in 18 years with the company it’s the first time he recalls having to suspend operations at several plants. He says factors causing the furlough are beyond the company’s control, and they hope to return soon to more normal production levels. The furloughs will take place at Tyson plants in Boise Idaho, Norfolk and West Point, Nebraska, and Denison, Iowa. The plants closing are all in the midwest and Pacific Northwest, where factors including tight cattle supplies and lackluster beef demand hit hard, along with recently-erected trade barriers in key export markets. Mickelson says Tyson plans to suspend operations for three to five weeks at the plants. The company’s asking workers to take paid vacation for the first week of the suspended operation, and Mickelson says they will then pay “the equivalent of a 32-hour work week” in each of the next 3 weeks they’re off the job. The company will also continue benefits including health insurance for workers who qualify. Plants at Cherokee, Storm Lake, Council Bluffs, Independence, Oelwein, and Waterloo will not be affected. The decision affects 15 to 20 percent of Tyson’s domestic beef-slaughtering capacity. Mickelson says Tyson anticipates the number of cattle going to market will increase in coming months, but particularly is hoping that the U.S. will re-open its border by March to Canadian cattle. He says that’ll be of particular help to plants in the midwest and pacific northwest. Mickelson says those plants get up to 20-percent of the cattle they normally slaughter from Canada. There’s another change in the world trade picture Tyson Fresh Meats would like to see: the end of import bans created when one case of Mad Cow was found in a U.S. cow almost 13 months ago. Mickelson says they’re hoping “some senior U.S. officials” will meet with the Japanese, saying it’s taken far longer than expected. He notes that with a new USDA secretary the federal government may take a leadership role in reopening exports. Nebvraska governor MIke Johanns, who was confirmed yesterday as U.S. Ag Secretary, led a trade mission to Japan in the spring of 2003.