Abattoir targets local producers, investors to keep business operating

A small Ontario abattoir has turned to the internet to stay in business.

Rainy River District Regional Abattoir opened in 2010 at Emo, Ont., to provide processing for local livestock and poultry farmers. It is a not for profit corporation without share capital and involves 137 producers.

The idea to build a local abattoir seemed like a good one, but the plant has struggled to break even since it opened, said company president Bill Darby.

The plant is now looking for crowd funding to realign its marketing plans to service a local food market.

“The desire for an abattoir was in response to BSE because farmers in our district were shipping cull cows to Winnipeg and they were getting a bill instead of a cheque,” he said.

The problem is that the company operates at only 20 to 25 percent capacity, even though enough livestock are available in the region to keep it running full time.

The region covers Lake Superior to the Manitoba border and north to the Hudson Bay coast.

The Rainy River region used to have an abattoir, but it closed because of the economy and BSE. Farmers were interested in local marketing when that happened but had nowhere to go. Instead, they formed a board of directors and raised money to build a 3,800 sq. foot provincially inspected plant.

The plant cost $2.2 million, and two-thirds of the start-up money came from the provincial and federal governments. The rest came from members.

A business plan was based on processing 800 beef equivalents. For example, three pigs are equivalent to one beef.

The plant processed 645 beef equivalents last year, but it needs 1,300 to break even.

The high price of live cattle in the last 18 months has prompted farmers to sell their cattle to buyers in Ontario, the United States and Winnipeg.

“As a result, farmers have been less interested in marketing direct,” Darby said.

The newest idea to save the plant is to focus on local direct markets in northwestern Ontario. A large part of the plan includes processing more poultry in the region and offering it as local artisan product, although there has been some difficulty obtaining more quota in the area.

Other producer groups in the region are also trying to sell local, which a nearby processor could help achieve.

“Our project is to get together with these folks and gain efficiencies on transportation costs, marketing. We need to collaborate. We should be trying to help each other as opposed to trying to do things independently,” Darby said.

“We know we can’t compete with the big plants. Local food will never achieve the economy of scale that the big multinationals can, but on the other hand, there is a niche market that is a more personal relationship market between consumers and the farmers.”

For more information, visit www.gofundme.com/rrabattoir.

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