Maple Leaf Closure Surprises Nova Scotia Broiler Industry
By Dan Woolley
Plant in Canard in Kings County, closed
By Dan Woolley
Nova Scotia chicken farmers found themselves picking up the pieces
after one of the two major processors of their birds, Maple Leaf Foods,
announced January 16 it will close its plant in Canard in Kings County,
Nova Scotia chicken farmers found themselves picking up the pieces after one of the two major processors of their birds, Maple Leaf Foods, announced January 16 it will close its plant in Canard in Kings County, Annapolis Valley.
Commenting on the closure, Chicken Farmers of Nova Scotia chairman, Ian Blenkarn, said “I would say it definitely is a surprise.”
Of the 45-million-kilogram chicken quota allocated to Nova Scotia’s 82 registered chicken farmers, the 36 producers who supply Maple Leaf have 20 million kilograms and the 46 producers who supply the ACA Cooperative plant in New Minas, also in Kings County, have the remaining 25 million kilograms.
In announcing the closure, Bruce McCullagh, Maple Leaf’s senior vice-president for poultry operations, said they would need enough chickens for two shifts to process, plus a $40-million modernization for the more than 50-year-old plant to keep operating.
The Canard facility’s 380 employees on one shift currently process 250,000 birds weekly.
McCullagh stated the plant did not have enough chickens supplied by the regulatory system to justify the investment in modernization to make the plant profitable and improve its cost structure.
Although the Maple Leaf producers group will have to find another processor after April 27, Blenkarn said “on the positive side, we do have alternatives ACA in New Minas or Nadeau Poultry in St. Francois.”
Nova Scotia birds have been shipped to Nadeau in Northern New Brunswick in the past; but Blenkarn wondered how sustainable in the long term it would be to truck poultry eight hours from Nova Scotia to Northern New Brunswick, given the at times extreme weather in the region.
“ACA has indicated their facilities have enough capacity to kill all the chicken in Nova Scotia, but they would have to put on a second shift,” said Blenkarn.
Nova Scotia Agriculture Minister Brooke Taylor contacted Blenkarn to indicate his government’s support for the industry and willingness to listen to any request for support.
The board chairman told the minister, once the industry has had a chance to analyze the situation, if any help was needed, he would get back to him and his department.
Blenkarn said Taylor then told him, “he would take his lead from the industry.”
The Maple Leaf producers have organized as a group and have been meeting to evaluate their position, said Blenkarn. “We have made it clear to them when they need our assistance our office will be there to help them.”
ACA called a meeting for the evening of January 24, inviting all of the 82 chicken farmers in the province to provide a Power-point presentation on what ACA is all about and what it sees for the future of the poultry industry, he said.
Blenkarn hoped the evening would see the industry sit down and develop a broad question and answer session to exchange views on its challenges and opportunities. “It was still a worthwhile meeting. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an industry-wide discussion. That was the original intent.”
Peter Swetnam, Chicken Producers Association of Nova Scotia president, explained the Maple Leaf producers felt a meeting with ACA of all 82 chicken producers “would be premature.”
Blenkarn said the Maple Leaf producers met the previous day, January 23, among themselves to examine their options.
He anticipates they will soon meet with the two processors, Nadeau and ACA, and he also hopes they will find a short-term solution before Maple Leaf closes its plant on April 27.
“It is too early to tell when they will reach a long-term solution,” Blenkarn said.
Ron Testroete, a Maple Leaf producers spokesman, said that the farmers that ship to Maple Leaf have formed a group and that the group is actively looking at all of its options.
With some 380 jobs at stake at the Maple Leaf plant, the situation is sensitive at present and the Maple Leaf producers have several more meetings planned, said Testroete. “We are very concerned that what we do today will have a positive effect five years down the road.”
Farming comprises about 27 per cent of the Kings County economy and the Nova Scotia poultry industry, with its $55 million in farm gate receipts, which represents about 12.5 per cent of the total provincial farm revenues, is concentrated in Kings County.
Acadia University economics professor Brian Vanblarcom has estimated that Kings County will suffer a loss of $17 million with the closing of the Maple Leaf plant, including its $11-million payroll.
Blenkarn agreed the Maple Leaf closure was “certainly unfortunate news.
However, there is a lot of news that comes across the table during the year that is good or bad, a challenge or an opportunity.…With effort and due diligence by the industry it could be an opportunity.”