The Cargill packing plant in Dodge City will reduce staffing by between 250-350 employees, sources inside the plant said. The reduction is a result of a stiff cattle market driven by drought, Cargill said.

Cargill Meat Solutions will reduce the workforce at its Dodge City plant by roughly 300 employees as a result of the tight cattle market, a product of the ongoing drought across the western half of the country.

The plant is expected to downsize from the normal level of approximately 2,700 employees to between 2,450 and 2,350 employees, according to workers who are not authorized to speak to the press. The direct effect may be mitigated as ongoing hiring has slowed in recent months.

The final number of affected workers will not be known for several days, Cargill spokesperson Mark Klein said, but laid off employees in the bargaining unit will be brought back as positions become available through normal turnover.

"We have been talking to employees this week and do not have a firm number on how many could be laid off or reassigned," Klein said. "What we do know is that these decisions are never easy and we looked at every possible option to avoid having to do this. We are blessed with great people."

The number of employees at the plant "will still be well above 2,000," he added.

The company will continually assess the need to restore the overall employment number but factors like cattle and feed prices and the output of producers in the middle of the supply chain are difficult to project, he said.

Currently the feed supply is looking good but the cattle market has less bounce than other protein markets, like chicken, Klein said.

"It's all related to that. The herd has to rebuild."

The U.S. cattle herd is the smallest in 63 years, according to the USDA.

In the meantime, "Aligning production with the available supply for harvest will enable the plant to run more efficiently," Klein said.

The remaining workers will likely see more consistent 40-hour weeks and overtime possibility as the plant keeps its workforce a little tight to respond to market conditions, said a plant employee with knowledge of the reduction who was not authorized to speak to the press.

The company is dedicated to remaining a strong economic engine and corporate citizen for the area and will continue investing in the plant, including the announced $50 million automated box distribution facility, Klein added.

"Dodge is the flagship plant. When Cargill first bought the beef business it was the first plant we built and we've invested in it substantially through the years. While all our plants are about the same size, Dodge was always just a little bit bigger."

Cargill will collaborate with state workforce development organizations in the coming weeks to help find jobs for displaced workers and possibly host job fairs, said Joann Knight, the director of the city and county economic development corporation.