Maple Leaf pork plant upgrades get public funds

Upgrades for Maple Leaf Foods’ pork processing plants at Winnipeg and Brandon, Man. will be backed in part by federal funding.

The upgrades, part of a sweeping round of consolidations and staff cuts announced last fall for the company’s processed meats operations, will get over $4.5 million in repayable funding from the federal Slaughter Improvement Program.

"Upgrades to its Manitoba facilities will help Maple Leaf boost productivity and production capacity to fill new market opportunities, which in turn will increase the demand for producers’ high-quality swine," federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews — MP for a key hog-production area in the province’s southeast — said in a release Friday.

The funds were earmarked to help Maple Leaf buy and install new line processing, heat recovery and packaging equipment and install new "value-added" production lines.

The work is expected to "improve operational efficiency, reduce costs, and increase revenues through the adoption of value-added activities," the government said in its release, noting "producers will benefit from increased access to a local processing facility."

The $60 million, three-year Slaughter Improvement Program provides repayable funding to packers for up to 50 per cent of the cost on eligible projects.

The program, which is no longer accepting applications, had required that projects receiving funding be completed by March 31 this year. Thus the work on the Maple Leaf upgrades is likely already done, an ag ministry spokesperson said by email Friday.

Centre for ham

The company’s total employment in Manitoba will soon grow to "approximately 4,000" people, Maple Leaf chief strategy officer Doug Dodds said in the federal release. "Our Brandon and Winnipeg plants are vital to a healthy hog and production sector in the province."

Maple Leaf now has about 2,325 people working at its hog slaughter and fresh pork processing plant at Brandon, and another 850 at its ham boning and processing plant on Lagimodiere Boulevard in Winnipeg.

The company said last fall it would spend $85 million on expansion work at the Lagimodiere plant, boosting its work area to 340,000 square feet from 270,000 and adding 345 new jobs. New ham and bacon smokehouses, coolers, packaging lines and other equipment will be added.

By mid-2013, the plant is expected to be a Maple Leaf "centre of excellence" for ham and will also be the largest bacon processing plant in Canada, taking capacity from plants at North Battleford, Sask. and Moncton, N.B., to be closed by mid-2013 and early 2014 respectively.

Maple Leaf’s other Winnipeg processing plant, a former Schneiders facility on Panet Road making Hot Rods meat sticks, is to be closed by the end of 2014.

Related story:
Maple Leaf plans expansions, closures across prepared meats business, Oct. 19, 2011

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