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Cattle agency moving ahead toward Winnipeg beef plant

A new beef slaughter facility is still on track to open in Winnipeg in 2012, despite losing $10 million in funding from the federal government.

“We’re as anxious to get out there and make an announcement as anyone else, and we hope to soon. Everyone is kinda anxious,” David Wiens, a director with the Manitoba Cattle Enhancement Council (MCEC), told the Manitoba Co-operator in its Sept. 1 issue.

Keystone Producers and the MCEC were blindsided in late July by the federal government’s decision to withdraw $10 million in financing it promised the beef packer in 2009 under the Slaughter Improvement Program (SIP). The money was earmarked for the development of the Marion Street processing plant.

The funding instead went to an expansion of Hylife Foods’ hog processing facility at Neepawa, Man.

At the time, the federal government cited unspecified problems with Keystone Producers’ business plan. Wiens said MCEC still has not received an explanation for why the funding was pulled.

“It’s a niche plant, it’s not going to be a Cargill, and maybe that is what they were looking for,” he said. “But our plan has been getting a lot of positive feedback from the producers, and our potential customers.”

Market research done by the Astana Group on behalf of Keystone Producers had identified a need for a slaughter plant specializing in halal and kosher products, with a capacity of 250 to 300 head.

“Months, not years”

1Wiens said $18.2 million in private-sector funding has already been secured, and that the company’s management team is now seeking funding to replace the $10 million lost when the federal government pulled out. But he added it’s too soon to say where that additional funding might come from, or whether it would be from a public or private source.

“At this point, it’s been a long time in the making… but we’re talking about a delay of months, not years,” said Wiens.

Formed following the BSE crisis five years ago, the MCEC is financed through a voluntary $2-per-head checkoff on cattle sold in Manitoba, which is then matched by the provincial government. Producer-owned Natural Prairie Beef joined with MCEC in 2008 to create Keystone Processors.

— Shannon Vanraes is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator in Winnipeg. The full version of this article appeared in the Co-operator, Sept. 1, 2011, page 15.

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