The provincial government is hopeful a Manitoba vegetable processor may soon be back in business.
Canadian Prairie Garden Puree Products (CPG) ceased operations March 22 when it was forced into receivership, resulting in layoffs at its Portage la Prairie plant and throwing into question the entire 2017 season for farmers supplying it.
Last week a Manitoba government spokesperson said in a statement that “government staff from departments of Manitoba Agriculture and Growth, Enterprise and Trade have been in contact with Canadian Prairie Garden Puree Products as options to proceed are considered.”
“The receiver of the business is working with them on a marketing package that will be marketed to new potential owners,” it also said.
“We remain optimistic that the company will reopen under new operation and can utilize technology invested in by the Manitoba government.”
However, the timeline to get a deal in place is exceedingly short for farmers, who are not only owed money for previous years’ deliveries, but were poised to start production again this spring.
Vegetable growers who bought seed and dedicated acres for producing for the company in 2017 are just days away from starting to seed transplants.
They can’t easily find alternate buyers for large volumes of grown-in-Manitoba vegetables, including large volumes of organic production, and also don’t know what may now become of harvesting equipment, buildings and other investments made to service the company.
In a news release last week Vegetable Growers Association of Manitoba president Roland Jeffries said the impact is extensive.
“Jobs that have been created on the farms to support this are now being lost. Our producers were all ready with their seed and land to begin planting for CPG as soon as they could get out there,” he said.
“They are now scrambling, not knowing what to do.”
Jeffries added later in an email that growers are waiting to hear more details from the receiver about how the company would be sold at this point in time.
“Our hope is that someone is able to pick it up and want to keep it in Manitoba,” he wrote.
“If proper arrangements could be made, then the producers are willing to plant this coming season for the company. There is not a lot of time left but we are trying to remain optimistic.”
Both provincial and federal levels of government have made significant investments in CPG including $582,000 put into the company in January 2016 to help it invest in new equipment and expand operations.
CPG has earned multiple awards for its use of innovative technology which steam cooks and sterilizes vegetables such as carrots, squash and pumpkins, as well as pulses, producing two-year shelf stable products for sale to food manufacturers and other food-service customers.
When the business launched in 2012 the former Harper government made a $2.5-million repayable federal loan to it under its new Agricultural Innovation Program, and named CPG the first company in Canada to be recognized under the program.
Receivership documents show AIP program to be one of the business’s unsecured creditors and still owed $1,519,344 on that loan.
Others owed money include multiple Manitoba companies, including several vegetable farms, trucking companies, tradespeople, manufacturers and law firms and other businesses.
The Food Development Centre in Portage la Prairie, a special operating agency of Manitoba Agriculture, is owed $148,062.67.
The accounting firm Meyers Norris Penny, which was named the receiver, shows secured creditors owed a total of just over $6.1 million, unsecured creditors are owed just over a further $3.6 million, for a total of $9,783,270.38 of liabilities.
The MNP statement lists company assets, mostly inventory and fixed assets, at just over $7.3 million.