B.C. Minister of Agriculture, Lana Popham, announced $450,000 in funding towards the development of a beef-packing plant in Prince George at the BC Cattlemen’s Association (BCCA) annual general meeting in Smithers last Friday.
An estimated 700 jobs would be created in the North by 2020 if the proposed plant becomes operational.
“Instead of [using] the model that moves to Alberta for finishing and slaughter, it allows us to capture some of the gravy in that equation,” Popham said. “We would have an opportunity to provide meat products to our own B.C. consumers but also to consumers outside of our province.”
The BCCA is leading the charge on bringing the federally inspected meat packing plant to Prince George.
The funding the BCCA received will be used to developing a co-op business model similar to the one implemented for Ontario’s pork industry. The plant would be owned by a combination of producers and investors, BCCA general manger Kevin Boon said.
The idea is have the individuals who supply the plant with cattle and associated products also be owners of the plant.
“In order to make this plant work we have to be able to guarantee a supply and the best way to do that is to have investment by those that are raising it,” Boon said. “If someone has skin in the game they’re going to be much more committed to raising the type of cattle that are going to be required to make the venture profitable.”
While this funding brings the plant closer to reality, it’s still just one step in a long process.
“One of the bigger challenges that we have in the province is we don’t have a finishing-feeding system. We don’t have the feed lots necessary to make them packer ready,” Boon said. “What we’re looking at is not just the development of a packing plant but it’s the development of the supply chain as well.”
The next phase in bringing the proposed meat packing plant to fruition is to have experts analyze the viability of the BCCA’s business plan. If it is approved the next step would be to secure funding with the goal of beginning construction on the plant in 2019.
“At this point in time I’m pretty optimistic we can make something work out of this,” Boon said. “It’s just a matter of [doing it in a way] that will benefit both the producers right through to the consumers, and in between create a bunch of jobs.”
One of the main reasons Prince George was chosen as the site for the proposed plant is it gives the BCAA options when distributing the finished product.
“Once we have it processed when getting the meat to the market we can put it on rail, we can put it on the highway and get it to the ports, or we can actually even utilize the airport if we’re exporting to some place like the Middle East,” Boon said.
Another factor in Prince George’s favor was its close proximity to grain producers in a variety of regions including the Bulkley Valley, Cariboo, Nechako area, as well as the Peace River region, allowing the BCAA to cut transportation costs by establishing feeding blocks in those areas, Boon said.
B.C. Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, and Rural Development, Doug Donaldson, and Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen were on hand when Popham made the announcement on Friday.
“People want to eat local, they want to eat quality food, and the more capacity we can build in the region to help out our producers, that will then help out our consumers,” Cullen said.
Donaldson also voiced his support for the project.
“Many of our cattle that our raised in the North go to Alberta for finishing,” Donaldson said. “If we can keep those jobs in B.C. and put less stress on the calves, trucking them all the way to Alberta, then I think it’s great. It’s good for jobs and good for local ranchers.”
In 2016, B.C. beef producers generating approximately $219 million in farm cash receipts, according to the ministry of agriculture.
The B.C. cattle industry is primarily cow-calf operations, and located mostly in the Thompson-Okanagan, Cariboo, Nechako and Peace River regions.