Swine and cattle farmers in the southern half of Illinois and surrounding region could have another option to market their animals as early as the fall of 2022.

Saline River Farms, LLC recently announced plans to construct a meat processing plant on Route 166, just east of Marion in Williamson County.

The 83,000-square-foot facility will process beef and pork on two lines and employ about 116 workers on two shifts, according to Brent Clark, one of the four partners involved in the project and a Williamson County cattle producer.

“This will give producers in Illinois a great option to process their (meat) products,” Clark told FarmWeek. “Once we announced this in September, my phone started ringing off the hook, river to river.”

Saline River Farms plans to source all animals from the surrounding region, possibly extending into Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas. The plant initially will process about 5,600 hogs and 2,800 cattle weekly, but that is expected to grow.

“We’re building with the capacity to expand and even double production,” Clark said. “We want to serve our region first. I think farmers from Interstate 72 south will be in an area that can really tap into this.”

More processing capacity is sorely needed in the livestock industry, where pandemic related shutdowns of some plants exposed production issues and temporarily backed up the supply of market-ready animals.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association estimates the beef processing sector is short about 5,700 hooks nationwide.

“We’ve always had a bottleneck of processing capacity in the southern half of Illinois,” Clark said. “The pandemic really highlighted people’s interest in locally produced and sourced food. We’ve seen some mom and pop processors fill up to the point it takes a year to get an appointment.”

Clark, a Williamson County Farm Bureau member, said the site and building selected for the project were damaged by a derecho wind event in 2009. He and his partners — Jeff Diederich, Steve Fowler and David Reynolds — purchased it last year.

“We had been talking for a year about plans to open a processing plant and this property presented itself,” Clark said.

Saline River Farms plans to open a 5,000- to 6,000-square-foot retail store on the site and service on-demand meat orders through shipping and distribution channels with the use of dry ice, similar to Omaha Steaks.

“We’re going to hopefully open markets across the country,” Clark said. “Producers I’ve talked to are excited and maybe they’ll be a little bit more profitable.”

Clark remains hopeful the new processing plant could open as early as the fall of 2022, or possibly by early 2023.

Producers interested in working with Saline River Farms can contact Ted Hampson at 618-997-1984.