A $4-million provincial fund for meat processing plant upgrades was snapped up in just eight business days following its announcement in late 2020.
Lobbying began almost immediately to have more cash added to the program.
“We have heard from a couple of business owners who did not have their application completed before the window was closed,” said National Farmers Union of Ontario (NFU-O) board member Hilary Moore.
A mixed livestock producer from near Lanark, she’s part of an NFU-O committee exploring the capacity bottleneck at the province’s smaller-scale meat processing plants in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Nov. 27, NFU-O joined livestock sector, food processing, and farm organizations in applauding the provincial government for the Meat Processors Capacity Improvement Initiative.
Through the $4-million program, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs offered to pay 60 per cent of the cost for new or refurbished equipment, to a maximum of $150,000 per project.
Eligible equipment included cooling and freezing units, waste management handling, deadstock or byproducts storage, in-vessel composting, animal handling systems, holding pens, knock box flooring, kill floor equipment, conveyor systems and cutting room upgrades. Engineering costs, training, and labour costs associated with equipment installation were also covered.
“COVID-19 has created new challenges for our livestock processing sector and as a result impacted our farmers so, today, we are taking steps to help plants increase their productivity and capacity,” said OMAFRA Minister Ernie Hardeman.
Despite a tight timeline for project completion – equipment delivered by March 1, 2021, and installed by May 31, 2021 – the Capacity Improvement Initiative proved very popular. Applications were first accepted Dec. 11; on Dec. 22, OMAFRA announced the fund was fully allocated.
Moore told Farmtario that NFU-O is concerned the tight turn-around unfairly favoured applications from larger-scale federal packing plants – those with more human resources available to devote to paperwork.
“Eight (business) days is a very short period of time to assemble a well-thought-out plan for the use of grant money, as well as put a concise application together,” she told Hardeman in a recent letter.
Speaking to Farmtario, though, Moore expressed optimism that a subsequent round of funding may be made available. NFU-O was asked by Hardeman, she noted, to write the Minister of Finance in support of an OMAFRA request for more money for the Capacity Improvement Initiative, something her committee is working on now.