The closure of O.H. Armstrong’s kill floor in Kingston is the latest move in the long slide of the pork industry in Nova Scotia. Since 2006, the number and scale of pig farmers in the province has plummeted and the slaughterhouses left couldn’t make a profit on the small number of swine left.
Armstrong’s decision should be no surprise to local producers. With only 15 to 30 pigs from the area were going to the market each week, and 250 needed to be profitable, there is no way a business case could be made to keep the kill floor open for pigs. It isn’t clear what the cattle situation was, but local beef is generally a small –scale enterprise.
There are other tiny slaughterhouses around, but the big guys are gone. Bowlby’s, Larsen’s and now Armstrong’s have closed – or in the latter’s case, moved to packaging meat others kill.
Similar change has happened in poultry and vegetable processing in the last decade.
Given the structural changes in the marketplace, there is no going back to where the food processing industry used to be.
The closures have left the industry in a fragile state, producers acknowledge. In order to survive in the food processing industry today, the strategy seems to be go big – like the new chicken and turkey processing plant in Berwick – or stay small. Even the large-scale operation of the new ACA poultry plant has had hurdles getting the number of birds they want.
It’s essential that the provincial agricultural industry preserve the existing processing facilities and add the means to value raw products. It is not enough to raise animals and grow produce; farmers need to have local means to change what they raise and grow into marketable, profitable consumer goods.
While it may never be a mass-market demand, there seems to be a small, steady demand for local food. If people want local meat and the current pig farmers are going to stay in business, they need a safe, clean spot to have their animals dispatched and processed.
“Government wants people to buy local, but how can they if local producers can’t get their products into the market?” one farmer asked at Monday night’s meeting on the issue.
Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture president Dennis Boudreau was in attendance and cautioned any action by producers needs to be built on solid planning.
“Any new plant is a huge investment. The reality is you need to demonstrate there is a market for it,” Boudreau said.
There are two provincially-inspected abattoirs left in Kings County – Reid’s in Melanson where pigs, cattle and poultry are slaughters, and MacNeil’s Poultry in Centreville. We hope local producers and the agriculture department are paying careful attention to how best the little guys in the business can survive as a local, quality choice.