WESTWOLD – A made-in-BC beef brand is finally within sight after five years of work on the part of ranchers.
“We will be signing a lease for October 1 with the KML federal processing plant just west of Falkland, and at that point we will have control of the plant to go in and start processing,” says Kevin Boon, general manager of the BC Cattlemen’s Association.
Boon is a key member of the industry steering committee that has been working on the project, which aims to put more cash in the pockets of BC producers by processing and selling beef locally.
But the project also promised to cost a lot of cash. Building a plant from scratch was pegged up to $8 million, and extensive operating funds would have been required for the first several years before it ever turned a profit.
Studies indicated that a new plant would also require about 500 animals a week to be viable. While there are a number of backgrounding operations in the province, a full-scale finishing industry capable of supplying that number of animals would also need to be developed, not to mention a supply chain to feed those cattle. Workers would need to be hired and trained and an extensive marketing program would be required to move the end product.
The steering committee determined that leasing an existing plant, starting small and sourcing animals at hand was the preferred way to begin building a BC Beef brand. It also allows everyone in the cattle sector – dairy operators as well as ranchers – to contribute to its development.
“We will be sourcing cull cows and processing them into hamburger,” he says. “That will allow everyone in the industry to participate.”
While BC Cattlemen’s has facilitated the development of the program, it was never the intention that the association would own the plant.
“A new company has been formed called the BC Beef Producers,” Boon explains. “This will be a producer-owned corporation and they will give direction to the chief operating officer who will develop the expertise for the operation.”
Mark Ishoy, a retired plant manager who served as president of Eastern Meat Solutions Inc. in Ontario, will manage the plant.
“[He] will help us get rolling,” says Boon. “He is very interested and very supportive of the concept we are doing because it is so new and unique. His experience will be a huge asset.”
The corporation will be run under the BC Securities Act and have a new and unique structure, Boon explains. Each share purchased in the corporation will come with the requirement to deliver one animal a year and if the shareholder does not deliver the animal, they could have their share revoked. Producers will be paid market price based on both quality and delivery season, as the plant will need animals year-round. Shares will entitle the producer to a portion of any profits from the corporation in the form of a dividend.
The lack of a consistent supply of animals is a common source of failure of producer-owned meat processing co-ops, Boon says, and the structure of BC Beef Producers aims to overcome that.
“If you think you are going to get a better price somewhere else and you jump there you will lose your hooks,” he says. “Because a lot of plant failures are caused by not being able to get supply.”
Interest from producers has been strong, Boon says, and the steering committee is keen to get the details of share ownership out to ranchers.
KML will retain the right to process and market a percentage of cattle under its own brand.
“KML has been really good to work with,” says Boon. “They will be able to process and market their own cattle so it is a win-win for all.”
The rural location of the plant, approximately half-way between Vernon and Kamloops, could be a bonus for hiring workers, adds Boon.
“COVID … has made workers look for work outside of the main centres, so there is an attraction in that,” he says.
Boon is happy to see it all come together.
“I’m very excited about the prospects of it for BC producers,” he says. “I think this is a huge opportunity for them. We will never get a better chance at a more reasonable buy-in than we are getting right now.”