Federal loan for Ontario pork destined for Japan

Breslau-based Conestoga Meats aims to boost shelf life for export-ready consumer products

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Ontario-raised pork products — an additional $300 million worth per year, if all goes as planned — should have a longer shelf life once they reach stores in Japan, thanks in part to a recent announcement of federal government support for a Kitchener-area, farmer-owned processing plant.

Agriculture and Agri-food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and other federal government representatives were at Conestoga Meats in Breslau on April 25 to announce up to $10 million in an interest-free loan, to help the company install a new, state-of-the-art chilling system as part of a larger, $25-million expansion project.

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Why it matters: Canadian pork processors must be able to compete internationally to strengthen and grow markets for the export-driven industry.

The project, which also includes the construction of new receiving bays and the purchase of three refrigerated trucks dedicated to the company’s export-to-Japan business, is expected to enable Conestoga Meats to hire an additional 200 employees.

Conestoga Meats president Arnold Drung said following Bibeau’s official announcement, “the competition is intense” in the global pork-for-export market, and “as a company, we must continue to do better to be able to compete in this environment.”

According to both Drung and Conestoga Meats vice-president of finance Tony Millington, the new chilling system will be operational once Conestoga Meats and its Prince Edward Island-based design collaborators work out some fine details. It will make the farmer-owned company competitive in Japan.

Millington would not provide specifics on the chilling technology citing the need to maintain competitive secrets but he stated “the hope (of installing the new system) is to expand the shelf life of the product.”

Conestoga Meats was founded in 1982 but continued on a small scale until 2001 when it was bought by the Progressive Pork Producers cooperative. This marks the sixth expansion since Progressive Pork Producers took control, a series of investments that has seen the company grow into Ontario’s second largest processor of pork, and expand its workforce from about 25 in 2001 to about 1,000 today.

Bibeau also highlighted commitments in the recent federal budget, which she suggested aid Conestoga Meats and other meat-processing businesses.

It included a Ministerial Order aimed at minimizing the risk of the arrival on Canadian shores of the potentially devastating African swine fever virus (requiring the inspection of feed ingredients coming into Canada at ports), as well as a “pathway to permanent residency” program aimed to make it more feasible for food processors to hire temporary foreign workers.

There was also an investment in the swine research cluster in the recent budget, she said.

About the author

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Stew Slater operates a small dairy farm on 150 acres near St. Marys, Ont., and has been writing about rural and agricultural issues since 1999.

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