True North Foods, a beef-processing plant near Carman, expects it will have its federal licence very soon, says the plant’s principal owner Calvin Vaags.
“I’ve been saying ‘two weeks’ for a long time,” he said during a recent tour by the Manitoba Beef Background and Feedlot School at October’s end, joking he’s considered wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words.
“But I think it’s very, very close now,” he said.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency officials tells him their paperwork — a document in excess of 3,000 pages — is now basically complete.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that we should be at the end of this road within a month,” he said. “I’m more confident than ever that we’re almost done.”
It’s been a very long road. Vaags bought the former Plains Processors, north of Carman in 2008 after starting up a successful business Carver’s Knife doing wholesale and retail sales of beef when BSE struck.
Vaags began to pursue the federal stamp shortly after that seeing what “an island” Manitoba had become when the border closed during the 2003 crisis.
True North Foods is now fully constructed and has been operating under provincial licensing, processing about 80 to 100 animals per week, since last year.
That that number will jump to about 1,000 per week once CFIA gives the green light, Vaags said.
Their business plan includes killing for the regular commodity market as well as servicing niche producer groups such as those raising cattle in organic and grass-fed systems.
True North Foods will have a unique traceability program that’s piquing the interest of offshore markets in particular, Vaags told the tour group.
“We have the capability to keep the origin right to the CTA tag number right back to every piece of meat that goes out in the box,” he said.
“That’s unique to other plants. The Chinese are very, very interested in that. Canadian beef or western beef has a very good reputation in China but they’re worried about authenticity. If you can prove through traceability that it came from this farm and in Canada it’s a real marketing feature.”
Twenty-six people now work at True North Foods. It will begin hiring more once federal approval is received. He doesn’t anticipate labour shortages will be a problem.
That’s because the plant doesn’t need a huge number of people, he said.
“We need an additional 50 to 55 people,” he said. “It’s a big enough number to have a positive economic impact for the area. But it’s not like we’re bringing thousands of people in. I think generally speaking it’s going to provide employment for people already in the area or close to the area.”