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Abattoir: Use it or lose it

By Ken Johnston

Financially, things are looking up for the Rainy River Cattlemen’s Association, but not so good for the RR District Regional Abattoir.
At the RRCA’s Annual General Meeting Thursday the members received a financial report from their treasurer Leanne Mose.
“You had a good year in 2012! You increased money in the bank, recovered money from litigation, paid down your line of credit and bought $5,000 in hay and still ended up in a good fiscal position.”
This was the first RRCA AGM in several years where they did not have a wrongful dismissal lawsuit hanging over their heads, which in turn saw all their income going to legal bills. In fact they won the case and recovered $52,156.44 from the litigation.
Mose said that while they are still in a deficit position on the books, they are moving forward in a good way. President Murray McDonald agreed saying, “We had a huge black cloud hanging over us. Now the lawsuit is behind us and we can now concentrate on better things and a positive future.”
However, after the treasurers report, Bill Darby, President of the Abbatoir Committee, spoke about its struggle to stay afloat. “We are basically saying use it or lose it!”
Darby put a financial chart up on the screen and gave out copies on paper to the audience. It outlined the first three years of operation by the Abattoir, which is located in Emo. In 2010 it had an operating surplus. However, Darby said that was misleading as that included some grant monies received to help with the construction and opening of the facility.
In 2011 the facility had an operating deficit of $63,021. In 2012 they managed to lower expenses and increase revenues to bring the annual operating deficit in at $28,425.
Darby said that while they slaughtered 487, 602 and 599 animals respectively the past three years, it just is not enough usage to put the facility in the black. “We have had lower than expected flow of animals through the abattoir.” He said there are several factors that are attributable to that fact. “Some members are not fulfilling their animal commitments, we are facing fierce competition from national and multi-national suppliers and we have no coordinated marketing and distribution system for local meats.”
Other challenges include high expenses at the facility, trouble with staff retention when it is only one day per week work, some farms have ceased production and the RR Dist Abattoir fees are high in comparison to other regional abattoirs.
One of the facilities largest expenses is property taxes in Emo, coming in around $28,000. “We are appealing our taxes to the province.” He noted that they knew the taxes were going to be high in a serviced community, but if they built outside a community with services they would have had to endure the expense and operation of a lagoon and well.
Darby said he was at RRCA AGM, “To raise awareness about the facility and encourage the members to use it more or face losing it.”
Darby said that the facility has been surviving on its line of credit the past year and a bit. “The last six to eight months we have maintained $10-$12,000 free board on it.”
He did say they have been working harder to try and get local meat into public institutions like hospitals, jails etc. “We have to market the advantages of local meat over multinationals.”
“The board believes that if it can get some more support from farmers it can close the revenue-expense gap. Support the abattoir, because if we don’t use it, we will lose it.”