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Heart Valley Processors up and running

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SASH

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Post-BSE slaughter plant opens
this document web posted: Wednesday February 16, 2005 20050217p74

By Mary MacArthur
Camrose bureau

The first new slaughter house to open in Alberta since BSE was discovered in Canada has killed its first cattle.

Producers Reita and Stan Sparks of Wanham, Alta., had toyed with the idea of turning a mothballed federal chicken processing plant into a beef slaughtering plant seven years ago when the chicken plant closed, but BSE brought the idea into reality.

"It gave us a jolt to try something else," said Stan Sparks, who plans to kill 70 animals a week at Heart Valley Processors near Wanham in the Peace River district.

Seven cattle were processed on Feb. 8, the first day of operation, but the Sparks expect to kill 35 head a day twice a week by late February.

"If we get enough enthusiasm or enough work we could probably double what we're planning on," Sparks said.

He also plans to start slaughtering bison soon.

While as many as 40 new packing plants have been talked about across the Prairies, this is the first to open in Alberta since BSE was discovered two years ago on a farm 11 kilometres east of the new plant.

Unlike other groups trying to raise money by selling shares to other producers, the couple financed the venture themselves. They sold half a section of farmland and mortgaged the rest to finance the renovation of the 8,300 sq. foot plant.

Even then, Sparks said there was little appetite from bankers to back the project. The project is financed through three lenders.

"The bankers don't want to get involved. The Alberta government doesn't want to get involved. They're making noise but they're not really handing out any money," he said.

"Part of it is the financing. Nobody's getting any help. We just went in and did it. There's a lot of talk about building slaughter houses, but no one is really doing anything but talk."

He said time will tell if jumping into a packing plant business with little experience is the right way or just the quickest way.

With the help of neighbours and friends and hundreds of hours of work, they turned the former chicken facility into a beef "kill and chill" operation to keep the business as simple as possible.

"We looked at it and decided with some renovations we could make it work," said Sparks, who backgrounds cattle on his nearby farm.

The meat that leaves the plant is cut into large sections and vacuum packed. Producers can then either find a butcher to finish cutting the meat or sell it directly to restaurants.

"It's up to the farmer to make his own sale and we'll process the meat," Sparks said. "We're not into the marketing end of the meat."

Like in most provinces, the problem Alberta producers face is finding slaughter space.

There are plenty of butcher shops able to cut and wrap the meat, but most federal or provincial plants have a three or four month waiting list for slaughtering.

The Peace River region has one provincial slaughter plant in Grande Prairie, Alta., and a federal slaughter plant in Dawson Creek, B.C.
 

PPRM

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Keep us updated, I think that this plant may serve some Niche markets. The effect??? for the overall market almost none, but for a few guys that hit marketing right, it could be big.

I see a few problems. How do you serve these niche markets and not be able to cut and wrap??? Sounds like there are quite a few guys that will do this, so it may blend well, but this is where I see long-term expansion. I also think if all they are doing is killing, they need to be able to eventually step up to 45-60 head per day,


PPRM
 

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