Conestoga Meat Packers is getting $350,000 from the provincial government for improvements to its Breslau plant, which will result in the creation of 40 new jobs.
Ontario Agriculture Minister Carol Mitchell was in Breslau Tuesday morning to make the funding announcement.
“We know the world is hungry for Ontario products,” Mitchell said. “This investment means Conestoga Meat Packers was able to buy new equipment to expand their production capacity.”
Conestoga Meat Packers will be expanding its loin deboning line and selling more boneless loins. Boneless loins command a higher price and expanding the line will mean the creation of 40 new jobs.
The plant has also purchased a ham tumbler, which loosens the skin and softens the muscles, allowing for higher yield on each ham. The one-per-cent improvement in yield doesn’t seem like a lot, said Bob Hunsberger, but it amounts to a significant increase over a year.
Hunsberger is chair of the board for the Progressive Pork Producers Cooperative, which owns Conestoga Meat Packers. The 150-member co-op bought the processor in 2001.
Conestoga Meat Packers processes 14,000 hogs per week and exports to 35 countries, including Japan, United States, South Korea, Philippines, Mexico and Russia.
“In the time the co-op has owned this business, we’ve gone from 35 jobs to 350 jobs and now we’re adding another 40,” Hunsberger said. “All of our members are committed pork producers, so they’re proud of this business.”
The investment is another piece of much-needed good news for the pork industry, which has been struggling for the past few years. Around Easter, the price of pork rose significantly, allowing producers to finally break even after months of negative receipts.
Since 2007, pork producers have been hammered by the high Canadian dollar, which makes Canadian pork less competitive on world markets. Many producers built and invested in their operations counting on the Canadian dollar being at 70 or 80 cents U.S., Hunsberger explained in an interview, which hurt them when the loonie soared past the greenback.
The Canadian dollar is still hovering close to parity but pork prices have risen, thanks to a drop in pork inventories in the U.S. The price jump comes too late for a number of Canadian producers who have left the industry, some of them through the federal government’s hog farm transition program.
“Hog farms are now profitable at current prices, but they have gone through a long period of unprofitability.”
Hunsberger estimates the Ontario hog industry has downsized around 25 per cent over the past few years.
In 2009, Ontario’s pork industry contributed $4 billion to the Canadian economy.