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True North on the verge of official federal certification

At full capacity the plant will be able to kill 1,000 cattle per week

Manitoba is within weeks of having a modern federally certified livestock slaughter plant, says Calvin Vaags, owner and operator of True North Foods near Carman.

“We are currently operating right now as a provincial plant but we are actively working towards our federal certification and it shouldn’t be that far away. I am estimating a month to six weeks,” Vaags told the recent annual meeting of Manitoba Beef Producers.

“We are currently just waiting on completion of the paperwork. Achieving federal certification is certainly not a small job but by the time we are all said and done we should have a facility with the capabilities of shipping beef anywhere in the world.”

Vaags said the facility has been designed to meet all criteria for Canadian, European, Chinese and American markets.

The 35,000-square-foot plant has been designed to accommodate multiple species with the capacity to kill approximately 210 cattle per day or 1,000 head per week.

“We have created a facility that is large enough to be efficient but small enough to effectively manage risk,” said Vaags. “The new plant has been open since August and we are currently killing about 75 to 125 cattle or cattle equivalent per week but that is nowhere close to capacity.”

The facility currently employs approximately 25 staff but at full capacity is expected to employ 80.

The facility will manage cattle, bison, elk, sheep and goats, as well as offer heavy carcass capability, accommodating even the largest bulls.

Vaags said the facility boasts enhanced traceability.

“At our plant we have everything traced to the CCIA tag and it goes right through the entire plant. What that means on an individual basis is you can get yield and carcass data — carcass quality data, not just on load lots but on each individual animal.”

Plains Processors expansion

Vaags’ path to opening a federally certified beef facility began in 2004 when he opened the Carver’s Knife, a retail meat store and wholesale beef distribution company in Winnipeg.

The Carver’s Knife quickly became the biggest customer for Plains Processors processing plant between Carman and Elm Creek, which led Vaags to purchase the plant in 2008. In 2012, recalling the BSE border closure, Vaags was motivated to pursue the creation of a federally certified facility here in Manitoba and brought a number of interested investors to the table.

“True North Foods has 13 shareholders who are all Manitoba residents,” said Vaags. “It is privately owned, but of course we do have funds coming from both the federal and provincial governments, as well as some commercial debt.

“We know that the day we get our federal stamp we have a significant amount of business lined up right here in the Winnipeg and southern Manitoba area,” said Vaags. “There is a lot of interest to buy all types of beef product out of our plant once it is officially federal.”

Vaags notes that Manitoba producers who look to utilize the local facility should benefit from reduced freight costs and handling time as well as the ability to access international markets and niche market opportunities.

“We are going to kill and process whatever animals make us the most viable and the most successful. We do plan getting involved in a significant amount of work for the bison and elk communities, as well as some of the niche markets — natural beef, organic beef, grass-fed beef.”

Vaags said pricing for the True North Foods facility will follow the pricing from Western Canada, with a basis off fat cattle prices and Alberta markets.

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Paige is a reporter centred in southwestern Manitoba. She previously wrote for the agriculture-based magazine publisher, Issues Ink and was the sole-reporter at the Minnedosa Tribune for two years prior to joining the Manitoba Co-operator.

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