For farmers, especially those with small farms, finding a place to have livestock slaughtered and meat packed is a challenge.
In April, the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) announced the creation of an innovative food hub for Eastern Ontario. Part of that food hub includes a plan for a $36 million dollar federally licenced slaughterhouse with the processing capability to serve regional and national markets. The project is modelled on similar food hubs in the United States and is expected to create 65 local jobs.
The UCPR will be the majority shareholder in the new operation and the UCPR is contending that it will have greater economic benefits to the region.
According to UCPR Director of Economic Development and Tourism, Carole Lavigne, her department is currently in what she described as the implementation stage of the project.
Lavigne explained that they are translating the theory of the business plan into the reality of operating a complex processing plant. The UCPR hopes to advance with requests for proposal (RFP) for construction in the fall of 2020 and have construction begin in the spring of 2021.
Marc Péladeau, owner of the Lefaivre Slaughterhouse, said the new UCPR facility will not affect his business, but he did question if it will benefit local, small-scale farmers. Péladeau explained that federally licenced facilities generally only take wholesale customers and provincially-licenced facilities like his only do custom cutting for smaller customers.
Meat processed at federally-licenced plants can be sold across Canada, but products processed at provincially-licenced plants can only be sold within the province.
Péladeau said a lot of skilled workers are needed to operate a federally licenced facility, and that getting employees is a challenge. Eight people work at the slaughterhouse in Lefaivre, but he said he really needs 12 employees.
“Nobody wants to work in the slaughterhouse,” said Péladeau.
Federal facilities generally operate on a continuous basis, and Péladeau said that it could be difficult to operate one on-demand to serve smaller local producers.
Péladeau added that when farmers sell livestock at a sale barn, they are at the mercy of large corporations who want to pay as little as possible for the product. He said that the UCPR will be competing with them to get meat for processing at its facility.
Artje Den Boer, who owns Pickle Patch Farm in Dalkeith, said she is already having to book into February and March of 2021 to have her pigs slaughtered and cut.
“We are not well-served,” she said.
Den Boer said that she has had to go as far as Chesterville or Athens, which is northwest of Brockville, to have pork processed, and that the nearest poultry processor she can use is in Monkland.
Farmers are faced with extra costs of feeding livestock if they must wait several months to have the animals slaughtered.
Den Boer was optimistic about the potential of a federally-licenced slaughterhouse opening locally. She said it would help local producers access the nearby Québec market. She added, though, that a greater commitment is needed by processors to artisan and organic producers.