Farmers, Maple Lodge hatch new chicken plant for Kentville

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BY JENNIFER HOEGG

Kings County Advertiser/Register

Chicken processing will return to Kentville in 2012.

Poultry famers and Ontario’s Maple Lodge Farms – Canada’s largest private poultry processor - are building a $46 million plant in the industrial park, welcome news after the closure of Maple Leaf in 2007, Eastern Protein in 2009, and cutbacks at ACA in December.

Farmers will own half the plant, in partnership with Maple Lodge Farms. The larger, more efficient plant promises a competitive edge and access to national markets.

“This is very exciting news for the Nova Scotia poultry industry,” Ian Blenkharn, chairman of the Industry Strategic Planning Committee, said in a July 14 release.

“We have been working with Maple Lodge and the turkey and chicken farmers in Nova Scotia and PEI to find a longer term solution for a profitable poultry processing industry.” 

In an interview, Blenkharn – also a member, chairman and CEO of ACA- said the new plant will open in the former Eastern Protein Foods building and employ approximately 200 people. “We have a lot of work to do. The next four to six months will be spent on finalizing blueprints and putting the proposal out to tender, building permits, etc…”

Eastern Protein, a subsidiary of ACA co-operative, filed for creditor protection in January 2009. Nova Scotia Business Inc. holds a mortgage on the property, Blenkharn said. “We have agreement from the parties involved that the property is there for Newco’s use.”

He says the joint venture has economies of scale on its side: “In the past when you had Maple Leaf and ACA, you had two small plants, each processing half of the chickens in the province. None had enough volume to make it truly profitable.”

Local angle

An added bonus: local product on local shelves. Nova Scotia poultry is currently packed at Nadeau Poultry in Saint-Francois-de-Madawaska, New Brunswick. Half is killed and chilled at ACA’s New Minas plant first; half the birds travel live. There is no way to pick out local birds from grocery coolers. Kings North MLA Jim Morton says Woodville’s annual chicken barbecue during Apple Blossom Festival Woodville served 3,000 meals, for example, “but wasn’t possible to determine whether it was local.”

ACA’s 35 steady and 25 on-call unionized processing jobs in New Minas will move to Kentville when the new plant opens, Canadian Auto Workers local president Dean Tupper says. When 96 of his members were laid off last December, Tupper expressed concern the 24-month recall period would expire before a new plant opened. However, when a new agreement was signed with ACA in February, the recall period was extended.

“We took some major concessions in order to make this happen,” Tupper says. “There were a lot of changes the company felt needed to make to move forward,” but wages and pensions were maintained.

“I feel really good about the announcement. This has been a long time coming and our membership has suffered greatly in the last year-and-a-half with the loss of jobs and income.

“We have been devastated; now, they’ll see some light at the end of the tunnel.”

Kentville Mayor David Corkum agrees it’s nice to be on the “positive end” of the story for a change.

“We’re just absolutely ecstatic they are going to build that facility in our town. It will increase our assessment, it will increase our tax base and we’ll be selling them water and sewer services, so we’ll certainly improve our income.”

“I think everybody hurt (from Eastern Protein’s closure), especially the individuals who lost their jobs. We lost some good people.”

Positive effects will be felt far beyond Kentville, Morton points out.

“This is good news for Kings County; this is good news for jobs in the short-term for construction and, in the long-term, for processors. He praises the hard work of farmers and the industry committee headed for combining “spirit of entrepreneurship and cooperation” to make the project happen.

“We’ve had so many issues related to the loss of secondary industries in this area,” Morton adds. “This is a signal we can do things differently and make agriculture viable by adding value to things we produce.”

Necessary infrastructure

Stability is important to farmers in the industry, Port Williams chicken and turkey producer Tim Ansems says.

“There has been turmoil for a couple of years…  now, this is a good opportunity to solidify jobs and I know I will have a place to process my poultry.”

“If there is no processing, there is no industry. Look at when Avon closed the pea and bean plant in Berwick - that industry disappeared.”

jhoegg@kentvilleadvertiser.ca

Organizations: ACA, Maple Lodge Farms, Industry Strategic Planning Committee Canadian Auto Workers

Geographic location: Kentville, Nova Scotia, Eastern Protein Ontario Canada New Minas Maple Leaf New Brunswick Kings Port Williams Berwick

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