The province's latest initiative to help build a slaughterhouse in Merritt, B.C. would mean fresher meat supply for local customers and more profit going to local farmers, say ranchers in the Nicola Valley region.
On Friday, the province announced a rural development grant of $1 million to the Small-Scale Meat Producers Association for establishing a community abattoir, which will be government-licensed and inspected by public health authorities, to provide meat processing and cut-and-wrap services to local ranchers.
There currently isn't a licensed abattoir in Merritt. Farmers and ranchers have to send their livestock to licensed abattoirs outside of the municipality, with the nearest one located in Kamloops, about 95 kilometres away.
The association's executive director, Julia Smith, who also owns Blue Sky Ranch in Merritt, says the province's announcement is good news for fellow ranchers in the area.
"[The abattoir] means we're going to be able to pivot our businesses in a much more profitable direction and to be able to supply meat to our community, at a time when people are starting to take that sort of thing really seriously," Smith said.
Rebuilding agriculture ravaged by fires and floods
The province says the funding is part of a plan to rebuild the agricultural industry in the municipality, which was devastated by wildfire and floods last year.
Rhonda MacDonald, who owns Bar FX Ranch located between Highway 8 and the Nicola River, says she lost 30 per cent of her cattle when most of her farm property was washed away by flooding last November. She says she has slowly been returning to full production since.
MacDonald says an abattoir in Merritt would bring a huge benefit to local customers, as they will know where the meat is from and be able to purchase them at lower prices.
It also means business growth opportunities, she says, for her and other farmers in the Nicola Valley region who are recovering from the natural disasters.
"I'm not going to lie — there have been times since the fires and the floods where we just thought about throwing in the towel," she said.
"It is a ray of light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel — it's giving us hope, it's giving us a goal to work towards."
Ensuring food security
In 2020, the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture conducted a two-month consultation with meat producers, abattoirs, local governments and health authorities on policy options to boost meat production and processing in rural communities, including granting licences to mobile abattoirs to improve service for small-scale meat producers.
Mark Roth, based in McBride, B.C., is building a mobile abattoir that he expects will be up and running this fall, travelling across the Robson Valley region to slaughter and process animals on-site for ranchers, who are then able to sell the meat right away to customers.
Roth says having an abattoir nearby ensures food security for local communities.
"With the pandemic and everything, people have really been noticing supply chain issues — so many of us live with close access to beef, yet we're buying it from Alberta or from anywhere else," he said.
"It makes sense to get our local animals to the local people who want to eat [them]."