Angus cattle roam Quapaw lands. Beyond serving outside customers, the Quapaw Nation raises more than 1,300 cattle and bison on their ranch for processing. As a USDA-inspected facility, meat can be shipped across state lines and sold in public markets. (Courtesy Quapaw Tribe)
Several meat processing plants throughout the United States shuttered due to COVID-19 outbreaks, leading to a drastic disruption of service that threatened the country’s meat supply chain and caused meat prices to skyrocket.
The Quapaw Nation’s meat processing plant, however, has successfully adhered to safety protocol and social distancing, while operating at its highest capacity possible.
That’s protected Tribal self-sufficiency. “Having our own processing plant allowed us to somewhat control the meat supply in our community. We never ran out of meat in our stores and were able to keep our community supplied,” Chris Roper, the Quapaw Nation’s agricultural director, told Native Business.
The Quapaw Nation’s meat processing facility has been operating on overdrive with limited staff. The plant went from being booked 60 days out to having a full roster of business through spring 2021. While the Tribe could typically process 200 head of cattle weekly, it’s operating at a rate of 70 per week to adhere to CDC guidelines.
“We have had to adjust like other businesses at all of our Tribal facilities. Social distancing is a priority; all employees in the processing plant must wear masks and have temperatures taken,” Roper explained to Native Business.
Native Business previously interviewed John L. Berrey, Chairman of the Quapaw Tribe about the Nation’s agricultural operations — including operating the first U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-inspected processing plant on a reservation that’s owned by a Tribe. As a USDA-inspected facility, meat can be shipped across state lines and sold in public markets.
The Tribe’s agricultural department was strategically created to vertically integrate Tribal businesses. In addition to processing meat, the Tribe grows vegetables and produces honey for restaurants affiliated with the three Tribal casinos properties. “We’re constantly looking at what we buy and what we sell and how we can integrate our agricultural businesses to fill product needs and then add value to those products to make more money on those margins,” Chairman Berrey told Native Business in summer 2018.
Naturally, the restaurants pivoted focus amid the pandemic. “There have been several shifts in business since COVID hit,” Roper told Native Business. “The immediate shift for the hospitality/food service type customers… was that they had to immediately shift to the retail markets to fill that void in retail.”
While casino closures affected the Tribe, fortunately the Nation’s agricultural program and meat processing have offset losses. Roper is hopeful he’ll have the opportunity to hire more people and expand meat processing operations soon. But for now, the Quapaw Nation is playing it safe and counting their blessings, thanks to the Tribe’s foresight to enter into the meat processing industry and grow its agricultural capacity.