BY SARA KEDDY and JENNIFER HOEGG
Kings County Advertiser/Register
Good news - great news - for Valley workers, farmers and businesses and communities who depend on the spin-off from Larsen’s in Berwick.
The pork processing plant will have a new life as a poultry operation come 2012, as Maple Leaf and Eden Valley Poultry announced first thing April 1 they’d reached a deal.
“We’ve been able to work through this together,” says Eden Valley director Ian Blenkharn, “no government involvement at all, and our producers are pleased and proud to see it.”
Eden Valley is the processing company made up of 66 poultry farmers in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and Maple Lodge Holding Corporation. The partnership had intended to renovate its Eastern Protein plant in Kentville when word came in November Maple Leaf was closing Larsen’s.
“We had a good option there, but there was 53,000 square feet and we would have had to add 70,000-plus square feet to it,” Blenkharn says. Larsen’s - there’s 200,000 square feet of building there. we’ll do some new construction, but a lot less.”
Larsen’s wraps up operations April 29, and Eden Valley gets the plant’s keys May 13.
“There will be a lot of renovation work in the building, but it will be on the same timeline we had for the Eastern Protein project,” Blenkharn says. “The plant is expected to be operational in the summer of 2012.”
Eden Valley expects to hire up to 200 people to work in the plant once production gets underway. Work will include kill, clean and cut lines. The chicken pieces will be bagged or trayed for restaurant or retail, but there will not be any further processing into nuggets, burgers or deboning.
Berwick Mayor John Prall was feeling “just great” when contacted moments after the announcement.
The plant’s future represents 20 per cent of the town’s tax base, one-third of its sewer tax collection and one-third of power sales from the town-owned Berwick Electric. The town has been agonizing over its 2011/ 2012 budget process, even setting out to draft a bad version and then a worst-case version, should the sale have fallen through, for final consideration.
“We were cautiously optimistic, but we really didn’t know - nor did they,” Prall says. “The companies were doing their research, and it was down to brass tacks.”
Prall said, while the year-and-a-half delay in the chicken plant’s start-up will be a challenge for the town’s finances, “we’re very relieved.
“We’ll be fine-tuning the budgets, and all the staff know what that means.”
In the meantime, Prall says the town is looking forward to working with Eden Valley Poultry.
Kings North MLA Jim Morton sent the press release through his email contacts list, saying “this is good news for agriculture, for farmers, for employees, for the Town of Berwick and for everyone in Kings County.
“I want to congratulate Eden Valley Poultry on its progress with this very important initiative.”
Despite the fact the plant was first intending to renovate the Eastern Protein building in Kentville’s industrial park, Mayor David Corkum says the April 1 announcement is “a positive one for the Valley.
“On behalf of our council we’re certainly thrilled for the Town of Berwick. We realize, with the closure of Larsen’s, it would have a huge negative affect on Berwick. It’s wonderful they were able to put together this deal. It will be good for the entire area.
“Are we disappointed that the plant is not going in Kentville? Certainly but, under the circumstances, there is no way we could feel resentful to our friends in Berwick.”
Corkum is hopeful the former Eastern Protein company will be able to meet its responsibilities, including any outstanding property taxes, to Kentville.
Blenkharn said what happens to the Eastern Protein property “is another story, a decision to be made another day.”