The United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) has announced the creation of an innovative food hub in Eastern Ontario. In partnership with the private sector, the UCPR will build a federal slaughterhouse, with food processing and distribution capacities, in order to meet the needs of regional and national markets.

This $36-million project will create 65 jobs and will be located in one of the UCPR’s municipalities, to be unveiled shortly, according to certain criteria. A potential expansion is planned in order to satisfy international demand.

“It is time for municipalities to launch innovative projects that will generate new revenue streams that will help cover municipal expenses with funds other than government subsidies and property taxes. Furthermore, the UCPR will be the majority shareholder of this agri-food company,” stated UCPR Warden Pierre Leroux.

This business model, unique in Canada and perhaps worldwide, is modelled in part on American food hubs where producers send their cattle to slaughter, after which they are packaged and distributed in a predetermined market. This project is unique here because all types of meats and vegetables will be processed.

Research has also confirmed that retailers and consumers are increasingly interested in buying quality and traceable local products. The food hub will therefore take the lead in the recovery and revival of agri-food in the region, particularly following the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We have learned from the current pandemic situation,” added Stéphane Sarrazin, Chair of the UCPR Economic Development and Tourism Committee. “Due to the increasing uncertainty across international markets, food self-sufficiency has become more important in terms of availability, freshness and traceability.”

The UCPR’s Food Hub will further the success of existing local food counters in retail stores. It will meet the needs of red and white meat producers as well as vegetable growers, who will overcome the challenges of production and processing and ensure the growth of their businesses. The food hub will eliminate the uncertainty of sales, reduce food waste, and will favour the creation of new products during the processing stage.

A call for tenders to find private sector partners will be issued shortly. Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2021 and the opening is planned for the fall of 2022.

The objective is to raise sufficient funds to avoid recurring financial costs. A number of federal and provincial programs are available for economy recovery after the pandemic — for job creation, innovation and the structuring of the agri-food sector, etc.

In 2014, the UCPR moved forward with the Local Food Counter initiative — a project which brought in $1 million in net new sales to Metro and a 32 per cent increase in local food section sales in the first year.

During the first year of this initiative, a poultry farm in the UCPR had to triple its egg production to meet the demand.

During the last four years, five other farms in the UCPR had to double their production to meet consumer demand for contract sales.

On the heels of these successes, a survey was done to determine the challenges faced by producers and the result pointed to the food-hub project. With this facility, producers can grow their revenue without significantly increasing their costs. Producers need this facility’s production and traceability equipment to get their products on grocery-store shelves. Fulton Foods advised the UCPR on cost projections to make the project profitable for all.

Without this facility, there is not enough production with 100 kilometres to meet buyer expectations, according to a fact sheet which accompanied the press release.

Financial projections for the first year show annual sales of $11.4 million and that 100 jobs will exist when the facility is fully operational.