Sat | Dec 3, 2016

Sweet River to export pork

Published:Sunday | April 5, 2015 | 12:00 AMTameka Gordon
Valdence Gifford, managing director of Sweet River Abbattoir and Supplies Company Limited.
Artist rendering of the Sweet River project at Ferris in Westmoreland.
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Sweet River Abattoir and Supplies Company says it will begin exporting pork to CARICOM markets when its new facility, being completed under a private-public partnership agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture, becomes operational by June of this year.

The only publicly listed abattoir, Sweet River began construction for a new facility in February 2012 through discussions with then agriculture minister Roger Clarke and the Agro-Investment Corporation, and has been handed $27 million in grant funding to complete the 12,000 square-foot complex under an agro-park-type arrangement with the ministry, Managing Director Valdence Gifford told Sunday Business.

It is the ninth agro-park to be created under the programme. Other parks have been established to grow vegetables, other crops and fish.

construction costs

It is costing $292 million to complete the Sweet River structure and furnish it with the necessary equipment, Gifford said, noting the company was already 95 per cent through the construction phase at the deal-signing with the agriculture ministry.

"This cash injection is to see the facility to its completion. The machinery alone for the factory is in the region of about $30 million to $45 million, so the bulk of it is financed through Sweet River," said Gifford.

Last August, the company floated a $180 million initial public offering, some of which it said then would pay down loans used to finance the new slaughterhouse.

Gifford says the new facility will allow the abattoir to increase its slaughtering capacity to nearly 300 animals per day, up from 120.

"The agreement is for us to focus on the western region to provide the service for farmers that live within these parishes, primarily for the slaughter of sheep, goats and pigs," he said.

Jamaica imports approximately $1.3 billion worth of mutton and chevron (goat meat), so the new facility could result in foreign exchange savings if these animals could be produced locally, Gifford reasoned.

With the prevailing shortage of pork on the local market, he further suggested that western pig farmers would be encouraged to go back into production.

As a listed company seeking to grow, Sweet River plans to push its pork exports to Venezuela, Cuba and Haiti when it gets off the ground later this year.

"We will operate a state-of-the-art facility that will be certified for export, which is not presently happening on any large scale. So with such a facility that will meet international standards, Sweet River will be able to export pork plus buy more animals from local farmers," said Gifford.

The new abattoir will further mark the removal of the company's operations from the GraceKennedy owned abattoir in Westmoreland that it has been leasing over the years, and a relocation to Ferris in the parish.

"GraceKennedy is going close that abattoir, hence, Sweet River needs to build a new abattoir, which is what we started three years ago," he said.

He said the company, which got its start in April 2009 when it bought the fresh-pork business from the food service giant, leased the space with an understanding to eventually build an abattoir for itself.

new abattoir

The new abattoir is being built on five acres of land in Ferris, the cost of which is included in the overall $292 million project expenditure.

When complete, Sweet River will also add 30 new staff members, bringing the complement to 50, but will continue to operate on a single shift, Gifford said, even as he noted the spin-off benefits for the creation of other jobs in the parish, such as farmhands and truckers.

To support the increased production, Sweet River will contract 30 farmers to supply pigs and 50 to 100 contract farmers for goats "because it requires so much more", Gifford said, noting the smaller litters produced by goats yearly compared with the greater numbers of piglets.

Giifford declined to give any projections for improved revenue performance once the new slaughterhouse is commissioned amid the company's 63 per cent drop in revenue last year linked to a severe shortage of pigs.

tameka.gordon@gleanerjm.com