By Nancy Kelly
Some of the big names associated with Nova Scotia’s beef cattle industry came to Berwick January 28 to discuss the fallout of the recent closure of O.H. Armstrong’s kill floor operation.
Thirty cattle and pork producers, predominantly from Kings and Annapolis counties, attended the meeting hosted by West Kings MLA Leo Glavine. Most relied on Armstrong’s kill service, which was discontinued last week due to waning profitability.
“Essentially, Nova Scotia farmers have lost confidence in the provincial department of agriculture to respond to their needs,” said Glavine about the need for farmers cooperate to “seek a way forward.”
Armstrong’s abbatoir was the second local facility to close in the past three years. Bowlby’s Meats, located in Greenwood, was forced to close in 2010 after declaring bankruptcy, further reducing processing options for local producers after Larsen’s in Berwick got out of the slaughtering business before that.
“These closures have left an industry in a very fragile state,” said Glavine.
Jim Lamb, who raises hogs and operates Meadowbrook Meat Market in Somerset, agreed with Glavine. He said if anything were to happen to Reid’s slaughter facility in Gaspereau or to one located in Antigonish, beef and pork producers would be left with even fewer affordable options.
With the slaughterhouse shut down in Kingston, Valley livestock producers will now be forced to go further afield to have animals processed. While some are already accessing the service at the Atlantic Beef Processing plant in Borden, P.E.I., that is not an option for all producers.
PEI Too Far
“Yes, PEI is there, but the reality is that it’s three or four hours away, not 15 minutes away for producers,” acknowledged Sean Firth, who travelled from the Truro area to attend the meeting. “Is there a vision for a local slaughterhouse?”
That was the question of the night, said Glavine, who believes farmers should demand a response to that question from government and the provincial Department of Agriculture.
Glavine invited the department to send a delegate to the meeting, but no one representing the department or the Dexter government was in attendance.
“It’s the same old thing and it says a lot,” commented Dempsey Corner producer Mike Horsnell about the no-show.
“They are letting us all die, one by one.”
There seemed to no shortage of anger towards the current and previous provincial governments at the meeting. Claiming successive governments have been indifferent to the realities facing the agriculture sector for many years now, one local farmer vocalized a concern of many.
“Government wants people to buy local, but how can they if local producers can’t get their products into the market.”
Ralph and Heather D’Aubin from Bridgetown were in the final stages of creating a business plan for a new meat market when they learned of the Armstrong closure.
“Armstrong’s kill service was part of our business plan. Now we need to adjust that,” explained Ralph.
Despite the set-back, Heather came to the meeting not to point fingers at “who is or isn’t doing their job,” she said.
“I want to know what needs to happen to successfully move forward?”
The meeting concluded with a commitment by Glavine to organize a meeting between Agriculture Minister John MacDonnell and representatives of the Kings and Annapolis Federations of Agriculture to explore a replacement for “what was lost at Armstrong’s.” He also wants to bring the provincial agriculture federation body into the loop.
Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture president Dennis Boudreau was in attendance and cautioned any action by producers needs to be built on solid planning.
“Any new plant is a huge investment. The reality is you need to demonstrate there is a market for it,” Boudreau said.
Glavine anticipates it will take a “combination of investment, legislation and will” to turn things around in agriculture.
“Our farmers have proven they are resilient and have independent spirits. But the time has come to move forward together.”