MOUNT BRYDGES — A London-area abattoir owner welcomes provincial help to finance a much-needed expansion of his business, but the program was shut down before he could even apply.
On Dec. 11, the Ontario government launched the Meat Processors Capacity Improvement Initiative, offering up to $4 million in funding for upgrades in meat processing plants. The cost would be split 60-40 between businesses and the government, with up to $150,000 available for each business.
That was great news for Michael Trbizan who runs Mount Brydges Abattoir with his sister Nicole and father Andy. He said the third generation family business is planning a 25 per cent expansion because of a dramatic increase in business since the COVID-19 pandemic began. He said the retail business has expanded tenfold in the past year and customers are lined up at the shop door all day long.
Trbizan said his family had taken the first steps applying for the program, aiming to meet the original deadline of March 31.
But on Dec. 22, just 11 days after the program was launched, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs announced the application process had closed. OMAFRA said it had received 92 applications. If every applicant had received the full $150,000 in funding it would have required $13.8 million in government funding, more than triple the allocation of $4 million.
A ministry release said “applications are currently being reviewed . . . in the order they are received by the ministry” and further applications would not be reviewed.
The sudden shutdown left many meat processing businesses across the province in the lurch.
Trbizan said he was not even aware that application process had been shut down until told by Farmers Forum. He said even the original March 31 deadline would have been challenging to meet.
“We need to get all the engineering information and the municipal permits and with COVID there’s often no one working in the municipal offices to get you the permits. These crazy deadlines aren’t really feasible,” he said.
Trbizan said the business hadn’t expanded in over a decade. The business was planning to expand cooler space and add several rails to the processing line. Even if he is unable to get any provincial assistance, Trbizan said he will go ahead with expansion plans.
“Ever since COVID started, we have had to turn customers away because we were just too busy. We just didn’t have enough labour or capacity.”
Despite the increased consumer demand for locally-processed meat, the number of provincially-licensed abattoirs has decreased dramatically in the last two decades.
For its part, OMAFRA told Farmers Forum that: “Once all applications have been reviewed, the potential future of this program will be re-evaluated.”