Qu’Appelle Beef | New ownership has plans for Sask. facilities
The former slaughter and processing plants known as Natural Valley Farms are expected to re-open within months under the Qu’Appelle Beef banner.
The Saskatchewan facilities near Neudorf and Wolseley, respectively, opened in 2005 and went into receivership in the fall of 2008 after accumulating debt of $25 million. They continued to operate for several months before closing in 2009.
Jason Aitken, who works in the financial industry in Toronto, is the new company’s president.
He bought the assets out of receivership in February 2012.
A year earlier, his company bought land around the Neudorf plant to operate as a separate farming facility.
The company also owns the adjacent feedlot, as well as ranches in Montana under the Northern Natural Holdings name.
Work has been underway for most of this year on upgrading the Sask-atchewan facilities.
“Both plants were always heated so there wasn’t damage or frozen water lines or anything like that,” said general manager Jamie Jurgensen.
“Basically what we’re doing is all new plumbing. We’re putting in a reverse osmosis water system. We’re adding some new equipment.”
The company is also changing how the cattle enter the plant to use holding pens approved by renowned U.S. cattle behaviour expert Temple Grandin.
“We’re being very conscious of animal welfare and keeping animals stress free prior to harvesting,” Jurgensen said.
Other changes include additional refrigeration capacity in both plants.
He said the water system is key to the operating plan. Water used in the slaughter plant will go through the waste treatment plant and into storage lagoons. After testing by Saskatchewan Environment, it will be used to irrigate the company’s cropland.
The Neudorf facility can handle 250 head per day. Jurgensen said operations will likely begin with cull cows, but Qu’Appelle Beef plans to target niche retail markets.
Jurgensen wouldn’t say what type of cattle the company will be looking for from producers.
“We’ve been working with a number of producers already and starting the dialogue with what the criteria will be,” he said.
“It’ll be what the customer is requesting and we’ll target those areas.”
He said a small packer such as Qu’Appelle Beef can add value to the chain right from producer to consumer.
Unlike the first operator, Jurgensen said the company will not claim to have a natural product.
Qu’Appelle Beef expects to employ 120 people at the two locations. Plant supervisors, quality control staff and other key positions have been filled, and Jurgensen said the response from local people to employment advertising has been good.
His background includes a career in beef and pork packing in the United States. He owned a 25 percent share in an Iowa plant, which he sold in 2008.
One of the criticisms of Natural Valley was the distance between the slaughter plant in Neudorf and cutting plant in Wolseley. For now, the two plants will stay where they are, he said.
“It would be more efficient if the plants were at one location, but there’s some definite advantages to having them separate,” Jurgensen said.
“You get into cross-contamination and some HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) and quality control issues if the harvest plant and the cutting plants are together. Some of the segregation actually helps in food safety.”