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Rainy River forges ahead with plans for abattoir. (Fort Frances).

The Rainy River Future Development Corp. is seeking opportunities to expand and diversify agriculture in the district through the establishment of a local meat processing plant.

The agricultural sector in the Rainy River District has witnessed significant changes over the last 15 years, says Kim Jo Bliss, a research technician with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affair's (OMAFRA) Emo Agricultural Research Station. A paradigm shift in the late 1980s resulted in the loss of more than half of the area's dairy farms, down to 18 dairy farms at present, and a notable increase in beef and elk farmers, she says.

Free trade forced many of the local dairy farmers to reconsider their options, and, in an industry that faced much uncertainty, several opted to abandon dairy farming altogether, Bliss explains. Many of the farmers who elected to continue farming converted to beef or elk farming, which is a contributing factor for the push to establish a local abattoir, she says.

Bliss, a 32-year-old who is also a beef farmer, points out there are two abattoirs to which farmers can to transport live cattle to at present: one in Dryden and one near Winnipeg, Man.

"If I wanted to sell a side of beef to my neighbour, legally, I would have to have it graded at an abattoir," Bliss says. "(Farmers) are really missing out right now without an abattoir."

If farmers send their cattle to Manitoba for slaughtering, it costs between $20 to $30 per animal for hauling fees, plus costs incurred at the abattoir. It is more feasible for the farmer if he or she owns a hauler, but refrigeration of processed meat is also an issue during the warmer seasons, she notes.

Bliss is also hopeful the establishment of an abattoir would spur local spending in the community. Farmers at present either sell their beef at farmers markets or have certain clients they have been selling to for generations, she says.

"At one point local stores were buying beef from the farmers," Bliss says. "One of the stores in Emo used to buy a lot of local beef, but it's changed ownership and they no longer do."

Other local franchised grocers purchase :heir beef from the Western provinces.

"Cross-border shopping is an issue that sometimes hurts local farming," Bliss says.

The Rainy River Future Development Corp. (FDC) has been facilitating the establishment of a committee to take the abattoir project on.

Having met the criteria outlined by the Ontario Heritage Fund Corp., the FDC is forging ahead with a business plan and trying to develop partnerships to bring this project to reality says Geoff Gillon, economic development officer for the FDC.

The FDC has applied for about $200,000 from the heritage fund, but the entire project Mould cost about $530,000. Plans are to construct the abattoir beside the Emo research station.

"What we're looking to do is improve the support for area farmers," Gillon says. "We want to start a component in the industry that would be value-added."

An abattoir has "the potential to be very beneficial to the district, so we are proceeding with this project."

Agriculture represents "a significant component of the economy, Gillon says, and it is "one of the sectors that has significant potential for growth."

The FDC has meet with various area business people, First Nations, producers and agricultural organizations, but no concrete partnerships have been developed to date, he adds. But the initiative is being spearheaded by a group of farmers who have taken a leadership role in forging ahead with the plan.

Value-added components, such as a local abattoir, might stimulate more farmers to encourage future generations to continue farming, Bliss says.

"When I hear farmers talk, saying they don't want their kids to do this, it worries me because I wonder who is going to be here to continue farming in the future," Bliss says. "What's going to happen when there are none of us left. It's a big problem. Our business is making food. Who's going to be here to keep making the food?"
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Author:Huhtala, Sari
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Oct 1, 2001
Previous Article:Proximity to U.S. Midwest boon to local businesses: Fort Frances-based manufacturer makes inroads into American market. (Fort Frances & Rainy River).
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