Prescott and Russell counties launching $36-million ‘food hub’ with federal slaughter plant

L’ORIGNAL – A $36-million federally licensed slaughterhouse and vegetable processing facility will be constructed by the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) in partnership with the private sector.

The upper-tier municipality announced its intended entry into the meat and vegetable business this morning, an initiative it describes as a “food hub.”

At a location to be announced “shortly,” the planned hub includes a federal slaughterhouse featuring both food-processing and distribution elements, “in order to meet the needs of regional and national markets,” the UCPR says in a Facebook post. Sixty-five jobs are anticipated, with a “potential expansion” possible to “satisfy international demand.”

A call for tenders to find private sector partners will be issued shortly. Groundbreaking is expected in the spring of 2021, with opening planned for the fall of 2022.

“It is time for municipalities to launch innovative projects that will generate new revenue streams that will help cover municipal expenses with funds other than government subsidies and property taxes. Furthermore, the UCPR will be the majority shareholder of this agri-food company,” says UCPR Warden Pierre Leroux.

According to the UCPR, the development represents a business model “unique in Canada and perhaps worldwide.” The proponents say it is “modelled in part on American food hubs where producers send their cattle to slaughter, after which they are packaged and distributed in a predetermined market. This project is unique here because all types of meats and vegetables will be processed.”

Research has also confirmed that retailers and consumers are increasingly interested in buying quality and traceable local products, says the UCPR. The food hub “will therefore take the lead in the recovery and revival of agri-food in the region, particularly following the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“We have learned from the current pandemic situation,” adds Stéphane Sarrazin, Chair of the UCPR Economic Development and Tourism Committee. “Due to the increasing uncertainty across international markets, food self-sufficiency has become more important in terms of availability, freshness and traceability.”

Furthering the success of existing local food counters in retail stores, the proponents say it will also “meet the needs of red and white meat producers as well as vegetable growers, who will overcome the challenges of production and processing and ensure the growth of their businesses. The food hub will eliminate the uncertainty of sales, reduce food waste, and will favour the creation of new products during the processing stage.”

UCPR wouldn’t be the first Eastern Ontario municipality to go into an agri-business. At the lower tier, within neighbouring Leeds and Grenville, the Township of Edwardsburgh-Cardinal purchased the former Port of Prescott more than a decade ago and continues to own the massive grain-handling concern on the St. Lawrence River.

South Mountain-area dairy farmer Yann Bossel describes the UCPR plan as “the best news for local food in a long time.”

Bossel notes it can take up to five months to book and butcher an animal in Eastern Ontario. “Congratulations to Prescott Russell for finding and pushing for extra jobs and added value to their communities that will in turn add revenue to their local producers, employees, and tax coffers. This will allow all in those communities to benefit from extra cash flow and extra spending.”

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