Prairie lamb producers have found themselves in a position where they must ship their animals to Ontario before fulfilling ambitious export plans.
The Canadian Lamb Producers Co-operative has developed lamb burgers, sausages, meatballs and kabobs and plans to market them abroad under its “Lamb” brand.
However, the lamb for these products must be processed at a federal slaughter plant, and options are few in Western Canada.
SunGold Specialty Meats in Innisfail, Alta., is the only federal plant processing lambs in Western Canada.
However, the co-op is using an Ontario facility for this initiative.
“There’s only one in Western Canada now and clearly there’s demand for two,” said Terry Ackerman, chief executive officer of the lamb co-op, which is an initiative of the Saskatchewan Sheep Development Board.
He said it would “make total sense” to process animals closer to the supply.
“Our objective is ultimately to build a plant in Western Canada,” said Ackerman.
The organization has used federal funding to develop an electronic meat grading system, which will help with traceability. It has also worked with the Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre to develop its products and packaging.
The co-op says its processed products can fill a gap in the marketplace because major exporters such as New Zealand and Australia are focused on products with minimal processing.
These “value-added” products are seen as higher value.
“We can sometimes make more money for our producers by exporting lamb burgers to the (Middle) East than we can by selling a rack of lambs to a local grocery store,” said Ackerman.
“Our mandate is to get the best return on investment for our producers’ meat. Oftentimes that requires export.”
Ackerman said the co-op has taken its products to several international trade shows and hopes to begin delivering products to U.S. distributors and retailers in September with exports to Europe, the Middle East and Asia to follow.
The development board represents 125 commercial sheep producers, who raise average flocks of 500 head.