By Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS- “Full circle.” That’s one way of describing the creation of one Kansas rural business, which is located in what was once one of the first state-inspected meat plants and is again serving the processing needs of Kansans.
Alex Parker is owner and founder of Circle P Processing, a meat processing facility in Waterville. He grew up in nearby Washington, where he judged livestock, meats and horses in FFA. After high school, he joined the Marines.
While stationed in Okinawa, he volunteered at a local stable. A farrier came to trim hooves and shoe the horses, and Alex became fascinated by this work. After finishing his service, he came back to Kansas and graduated from professional farrier school to become a farrier himself.
Using the initial of his last name, he adopted the brand Circle P. He also married Karly. They now have two daughters with another child on the way.
As Parker visited his various farrier customers during 2020, a question came up consistently: “Do you know anywhere we can get in to get our beef processed?” All the local locker plants were booked up for a year or two ahead.
When Parker saw how the retail price of meat had skyrocketed, he decided there might be a market opportunity to process beef locally. As he explored the idea, he learned that a former locker plant in Waterville was for sale. It was the facility where Alvin and LeeAnn Roepke had operated one of the first state-inspected locker plants beginning in the 1970s. The building had changed hands several times since the Roepkes retired in the early 1990s. Most recently it had been used for seed storage.
With support from the Small Business Administration, Parker bought the building in February 2021. He found that Alvin Roepke still had his original blueprints. Parker used those blueprints, made necessary modification to reflect the larger size of cattle today, and rebuilt the processing facility from scratch.
“I used his blueprints and rebuilt the railing and coolers and everything,” Parker said. “That was four months of 20 hour (work) days.”
He received two USDA grants to modernize the equipment, including new wiring, lighting, and refrigeration. He designed and built the outside pens on site.
Using Parker’s existing brand name, the facility opened as Circle P Processing on June 14, 2021. It began as strictly a custom processing plant for individuals until he could get the necessary inspection for him to do commercial processing. The Kansas Department of Agriculture did the inspection in the early fall, and Circle P Processing became a state-inspected facility as of September 2021.
Parker also found that Alvin Roepke’s inspection number had been retired when he retired. With agreement from Roepke and the KDA, the original inspection number was restored to the facility. That means that Circle P Processing is plant #6 once again.
Circle P Processing continues to grow, processing beef, pork, and even bison and yak. “We’ve worked with the Kansas State University meat science program,” Parker said. “(Professor) Liz Boyle has been really informative.”
Parker continues to help his father-in-law run cattle, which gives him an appreciation for the producer perspective.
“Something we do that’s unique is that I will weigh the animal’s live weight, hanging weight, and the product weight,” he said. This provides key information which can be useful feedback to the cattle producer.
“I want to get more data points back to the producer so that he can adjust with genetics or nutrition to get a better product. I also have my own numbering system so that the customer can view the individual carcass.”
Circle P Processing customers have taken their product home to as far away as Michigan, Arizona, and Nashville, Tennessee. “Kansas beef just tastes better,” Parker said.
It’s a remarkable accomplishment for a business in the rural community of Waterville, population 658 people. Now, that’s rural.
For more information, see www.circlepprocessing.com.
We commend Alex Parker of Circle P Processing for making a difference with local processing of meat. I’m glad to see this business come full circle.
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