ACRD ponders abattoir for Valley

Agricultural survey will determine whether there is enough livestock.

Beef cattle at Arrowvale Farm on Hector Road have to be transported to Courtenay for slaughter.

The Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District has launched a feasibility study that will investigate the livestock production necessary to support an abattoir in the Alberni Valley.

A $10,000 contract has been awarded to Janco Associates Business Consulting to administer the study. The Salt Spring Island company has experience working on agricultural projects throughout B.C. and has been involved in numerous abattoir projects over the past 10 years.

An abattoir feasibility survey is the first step in obtaining information from local food producers, says Alex Dyer, planner at the ACRD. An online survey is available until March 2.

“We’re asking all the farmers and food producers, not only in the ACRD, but in the Parksville, Coombs and Errington area, about what they’re raising, how many of each they’re raising and what plans they have for the  future,” Dyer said.

With the lack of red meat processing facilities in the Alberni Valley, local farmers face issues when traveling elsewhere on the Island to slaughter their animals.

“There’s a considerable expense in time to get an animal to Courtenay,” said Bob Collins.

Collins runs Arrowvale Farm with his wife, Ann (pictured here).

“Not only in time but in cost for vehicles and fuel. And then we have to turn around within two or three weeks and repeat the trip.”

Collins, who raises beef cattle at his Hector Road farm, said farmers in the Valley could benefit from having a local abattoir and that facilities in the past have shut down due to a change in Federal Meat Inspection protocol.

“Largely what closed a lot of [local abattoirs] down was this whole thing about you have to be a federally licensed and inspected plant and it takes a considerable investment to get your facilities upgraded to a point where you can pass those inspections . . . and I think most [farmers] weren’t prepared to put that kind of money in,” Collins said.

According to a press release from the ACRD the lack of a local, provincially inspected abattoir has been identified by the ACRD Agriculture Development Committee as a key roadblock in supporting the livestock industry in the region.

Dyer said when the district adopted the Alberni Valley Agricultural Plan in 2011 that the primary goal was to increase local food security.

“A big factor of that is to increase production and support the economy side of the agriculture sector,” he said.

Ron Caldwell, general manager at Hertel Meats, said it is important to know what the ultimate goal is in bringing an abattoir back to the Valley.

“I think the No. 1 question is how many animals, and what do they want to achieve?” Caldwell said. “The number of animals is important because what are you going to do, kill one a month? And you have a building sitting there rotting? Doesn’t make any sense.”

Hertel Meats had a slaughter facility on their Beaver Creek property for more than 30 years that they shut down roughly five years ago and turned into a smokehouse.

The ACRD received funding to complete the feasibility study from the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC, which gave $5,000. The ACRD contributed $2,000 in-kind services and $500 was donated by the Alberni Farmers’ Institute. Board members at the district directed an additional $5,000 in funding from the Agriculture Plan Initiatives budget to provide matching funding for the project.

Additional research will be conducted on grant opportunities and alternative uses for an abattoir facility, according to the ACRD. Information on the current level of livestock production will also be used to research various methods to increase production and project a total capacity of livestock production in the region.

“An abattoir here would be a good thing from a business perspective,” said Collins. “Whether or not there’s a volume of animals here that would justify anybody doing it is another matter altogether and I guess the study will find that out.”

karly.blats@albernivalleynews.com

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