The Manitoba Cattle Enhancement Council announced today that its first investment will be up to $1.2 million for Natural Prairie Beef, a marketing and processing project to be based at Neepawa, Man.
The company, which was founded in 2004 and so far includes about 110 shareholders, plans to use the money to expand its consortium of Manitoba cattle producers, increase its capacity to sell Manitoba beef and develop the brand and markets for its antibiotic-free, growth hormone-free products, citing the growing North American kosher market for example.
Once its markets and supply chain are in place, Natural Prairie plans to build a processing plant in Manitoba, which would expand later to include slaughter capacity. The company expects to break ground on a processing site in the Neepawa area in 2008 for completion 15-18 months later.
With a new plant built, Natural Prairie expects to market up to 1,250 Manitoba cattle per week, or 62,500 per year.
The investment is somewhat of a milestone for the council, which was launched in 2006 to support Manitoba beef projects via a $2-per-head refundable levy on all cattle sold by Manitoba producers. The provincial government provided start-up funds and is matching producers’ contributions for the first three years.
The council was formed with the goal of boosting beef slaughter and processing capacity in a province with no federally-inspected beef slaughter of its own — a problem that left many Manitoba cattle producers at an even greater disadvantage than seen in other provinces when their market corridor to the U.S. was closed during the BSE crisis.
Dauphin-based Ranchers Choice Beef Co-op, which voted to dissolve in February without sufficient funding commitments beyond those of the council, the province and existing shareholders, had been expected to be the council’s first beneficiary.
Natural Prairie applied to the council for funding and pressed earlier this summer to ensure its own shareholders didn’t ask for refunds of their MCEC levies, in advance of a September deadline to exercise that option.
Natural Prairie has a 25 per cent investment stake in Natural Valley Farms, which has feedlot, slaughterhouse and processing operations at Neudorf and Wolseley in southeastern Saskatchewan. NVF had announced cutbacks and reorganization this spring to “adapt to the slump in fed cattle returns.”
Announcing the Natural Prairie funding, MCEC executive director Kate Butler said the council “will be making this investment in stages, because the objectives of each phase will build upon the last. We will need to be satisfied at each stage prior to disbursing more funds.”
More details of the investment and reaction from the industry will be available in coming issues of the Manitoba Co-operator.