Black Angus beef from Iowa Premium.

A meatpacking plant in Tama is the first in the state to receive approval to export beef to China.

The approval for Iowa Premium comes two weeks after the 13-year ban on U.S. beef imports to China was lifted. Iowa Premium CEO Jeffrey Johnson says the approval process is pretty similar to getting approval to ship anywhere else.

“The U.S.D.A. looks at your quality assurance assessment programs and your export verification programs, also there’s some grade labeling programs. They look at all of our programs — assess them and if they meet the standard for shipping to China — then they approve us,” Johnson explains. Johnson says they process Black Angus beef that they will send to China. He says the Chinese like all of the cuts from the cow.

Workers at the Iowa Premium plant in Tama.

“That’s the thing that we think is a good advantage for the beef industry in China, that they do take a breadth across the carcass. They don’t just take the middles, they don’t just take the ends, the take a good mix and China is going to be a real good partner for the beef industry,” Johnson says.

Johnson says they hope to send out the first shipments in a couple of weeks.

“We’re going to start with two container loads a week, hopefully build up to 4 to 4, so anywhere from 800,000  pounds to a million pounds a month,” according to Johnson. “Iowa Premium wants to have 34 percent of our meet going overseas. Because there are customers that want family farm raised Black Angus beef.”

Johnson doesn’t think starting up imports of beef again to China will impact the prices here in the U.S. “Cattle production if you look at the numbers is up across the U.S…I think that the industry is ready for the Chinese consumer,” he says. “It’s been coming, so the whole chain has to be prepared for it.” Iowa Premium has already been shipping some of its beef to other countries.

“South America, of course Japan is a great customer of ours today. We ship meat there every week,” Johnson says. The Tama plant employs 851 people right now working five days a week. Johnson says they can handle increased demand from China by adding a little more production to what they are already doing.

“Right now we do 5,500 head, we’ll do 6 days 6,600 head, and then we made do an additional 100 head a day just depending on the volume that we do. The company is built for expansion without building onto the building,” Johnson says.

He says they get all their cattle form family farmer-feeders in Iowa and neighboring Midwest states. Iowa Premium took over the closed plant in Tama three years ago and renovated and reopened it.

Photos courtesy of Iowa Premium.