Independent processors and inspectors have stepped up to meet increased demand, says industry representative
By Jackie Clark
Independent, provincially-inspected abattoirs have seen a huge uptick in demand since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the provincial government is providing up to $4 million to help meet that demand. The government of Ontario announced the funding through The Meat Processors Capacity Improvement Initiative in a release on Nov. 27.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis in Canada, meat processers in Ontario observed “an initial surge of increased demands from March until the end of July almost,” Franco Naccarato, executive director of Meat and Poultry Ontario, told Farms.com.
Production increased, but there was also “a lot of uncertainty during that time, uncertainty if your staff was going to come in, uncertainty of what the markets were going to be like,” Naccarato explained. That uncertainty made it hard for meat processors to plan ahead for the coming months.
However, “one thing they were able to do is respond very quickly to that increased demand,” he added. Most of the smaller, independent provincial abattoirs did not face the same challenges of major virus outbreaks and shutdowns like some of the larger processing plants did, and many were able to ramp up production to meet demand.
The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) was a key partner in helping meet that challenge.
“OMAFRA said they responded to 1400 requests for overtime in that three- to four-month period,” Naccarato said. “Without them as a partner we wouldn’t have been able to do that … Right next to our butchers, the inspectors were there every day to ensure continued inspection, and we thank them for that because otherwise we would not have been able to operate.”
Though the elevated demand had started to go down “we’re seeing spikes again,” he added. The second wave of the pandemic and an increased interest in purchasing local food may continue to foster demand for provincial abattoirs.
“A lot of people have been shifting their purchasing from big box stores to smaller independents,” Naccarato said. “It’s just great to see.”
This new funding from the Ontario government will help businesses capitalize on that change by making improvements that will help them meet demand more efficiently, he explained. Those improvements may include more refrigeration space, increased automation, or purchasing other equipment to speed up production lines.
Meat processers may also invest in “getting some engineering and technical advice on how to make your lines more efficient,” he added.
Applications for the fund open on Dec. 4, and eligible projects funded under the program will receive up to $150,000 and must have equipment delivered by March 1, 2021 with installation complete by May 31, 2021.
In that relatively short timeline “you’re not going to be doing a total renovation … it’ll be mainly equipment and improving efficiencies,” Naccarato said.
As we continue to move through this strange time “I think you’re going to see a greater call from a lot of different people to support the sector as it is a growth opportunity. They are our future,” he added. “These are the (businesses) that are innovating, and creating new products and diversifying on the way they produce the food and the types of food they’re producing. I think that’s our strength in Ontario.”
FG Trade\E+ photo