In spite of the provincial government’s best efforts, Manitoba cattle producers may yet see a federally inspected beef slaughter plant built and licensed in this province in the near future.
And if they do, producers will have private enterprise to thank for it.
The recently announced demise of the Manitoba Cattle Enhancement Council, and the resulting end of the cattle levy, mark the provincial government’s utter failure to establish such a plant in this province.
As every cattle producer will likely recall, during the BSE crisis in 2003, our province’s producers were forced to ship animals to Saskatchewan when the U.S. border closed to Canadian animals.
That crisis resulted in a movement among producers, government and the agri-business sector to enhance Manitoba’s slaughter capacity.
One of the first major attempts was by the Ranchers Choice Beef Co-operative, which had attempted to raise funds and cattle commitments from cash-strapped producers for a $28-million facility in Dauphin.
That project died in early 2007 before a single animal saw the butcher’s knife. Ironically, the province said it turned down the request because Ranchers Choice had not come up with a viable business plan, and the government had no wish to own the facility.
In the meantime, the provincial government gave the MCEC a mandate to identify and encourage other potential slaughter facility proposals, and gave it the authority to collect a voluntary check-off of $2 per head from cattle sales to help fund any new projects.
The government did so without properly consulting players within the beef industry, and in the process angered a great many producers, who then accused the NDP of ignoring their advice.
Nevertheless, the MCEC forged forward, and eventually joined the federal government in offering financial support to the proposed Keystone Processors Ltd. plant in Winnipeg in November 2009. But after 21 months of going nowhere, the federal government finally said enough is enough. Ottawa yanked $10 million it had promised to Keystone Processors and gave it to the hog slaughter plant in Neepawa.
Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said in a media release at the time that the money was moved to the Neepawa hog plant because Keystone and the provincial government, even after 10 separate reviews, had not submitted a viable business plan.
Industry leaders were already calling for the abolition of the levy at that time, and it only took two years and a complete lack of movement at the Keystone plant since 2011 before the MCEC and the province complied.
Even during the Aug. 30 announcement that heralded the end of the MCEC and the cattle levy, the provincial government proved it still cannot accept responsibility for its failure to build a federally inspected beef slaughter plant, as it once again tried to pin the blame on the federal government for turning its back on the province’s beef industry.
However, Manitoba may still see a federally inspected beef slaughter plant fully constructed near Carman — this in spite of, not because of, the Manitoba Cattle Enhancement Council.
As the Winnipeg Free Press reported last weekend, Plains Processors owner Calvin Vaags is in the midst of a $13-million expansion of his 1950s-era plant that he purchased in 2008.
Over the past four years, Vaags has been working to achieve federally inspected status for Plains Processes, and if all goes according to plan, his plant will be supplying the domestic and export markets with Manitoba-raised and processed beef early next year.
The upgraded facility is expected to employ about 80 people and handle 200 head of cattle per day, with a possible scale up to 400 head with a small amount of additional investment. Though Vaags was promised $920,000 from the MCEC, he had yet to see a dollar of that when the province announced the end of the enhancement council.
It was Vaags’ shareholders, who injected $3 million into the project, that helped move the project forward.
“They are very much entrepreneurial-based people, they are pro-Manitoba and they are strong partners to have on this project,” Vaags told the Free Press.
Manitoba’s NDP has nothing to boast about when it comes to its record on enhancing slaughter capacity in this province. We wish this had not been the case because the government’s failure has only hurt Manitoba’s beef industry.
After more than seven years in operation, and millions of dollars in collected levies on cattle, it’s unfortunate that the only thing that the province and the MCEC managed to do well was irritate and anger cattle producers in this province and waste a lot of time and money in the process.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 12, 2013