Plans for lo­cal meat pro­cess­ing fa­cil­ity move for­ward

The Enterprise - - News - By PAUL LAGASSE pla­gasse@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @PaulIndyNews

The South­ern Mary­land Agri­cul­tural De­vel­op­ment Com­mis­sion last month is­sued a re­quest for pro­pos­als seek­ing com­pa­nies in­ter­ested in build­ing and op­er­at­ing a pro­cess­ing plant for lo­cal live­stock, restart­ing a process that has been in the works for four years.

The so­lic­i­ta­tion in­cor­po­rates feed­back re­ceived after a sim­i­lar re­quest for pro­pos­als last year failed to at­tract bid­ders.

“SMADC has un­der­taken stud­ies and found out that the most im­por­tant thing that farm­ers in this re­gion wanted was a meat pro­cess­ing fa­cil­ity,” said John Hartline, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Tri-County Coun­cil for South­ern Mary­land, which over­sees the com­mis­sion.

Cur­rently, farm­ers in South­ern Mary­land have to travel a min­i­mum of two or three hours each way in or­der to have their live­stock slaugh­tered and pro­cessed at fa­cil­i­ties else­where in Mary­land as well as Vir­gin- ia and Penn­syl­va­nia, Hartline said.

Shelby Wat­son-Hamp­ton, di­rec­tor of the com­mis­sion, said that feed­back re­ceived from prospec­tive bid­ders fol­low­ing the last so­lic­i­ta­tion in Novem­ber 2016 re­vealed con­cerns about zon­ing and per­mit­ting, wa­ter and sewer re­quire­ments, and fi­nanc­ing.

“We took the in­for­ma­tion we heard anec­do­tally and con­vened a com­mit­tee to look at it,” Wat­son-Hamp­ton said. “Hope­fully we’ll see bet­ter par­tic­i­pa­tion now that things have been made a lit­tle bit clearer.”

The new RFP al­lows bid­ders to pro­pose con­struct­ing more than one fa­cil­ity for pro­cess­ing live­stock. This would al­le­vi­ate chal­lenges caused by dif­fer­ences in the zon­ing re­quire­ments for fa­cil­i­ties that slaugh­ter, process and pack­age an­i­mal prod­ucts.

“It might be harder to find one per­fect site,” Wat­son-Hamp­ton said.

Wat­son-Hamp­ton said that the need for the fa­cil­ity has been clearly demon­strated by the de­mand among farm­ers to rent two freezer trail­ers owned by the de­vel­op­ment com­mis­sion to trans­port their pro­cessed meat prod­ucts from USDA pro­cess­ing plants to stores. As of mid-2017, the trail­ers had been used to trans­port more than 81,500 pounds of pro­cessed meat with a re­tail value of al­most $474,000.

The de­vel­op­ment com­mis­sion was es­tab­lished in 1998 to man­age funds awarded to the state in the 25-year Master Set­tle­ment Agree­ment with the tobacco in­dus­try. Then-gover­nor Par­ris Glen­den­ing al­lo­cated a 5 per­cent share of the funds to sup­port the de­vel­op­ment of a re­gional agri­cul­ture strat­egy for South­ern Mary­land that would re­place tobacco pro­duc­tion with other forms of farm­ing.

Farm­ers, elected of­fi­cials and busi­ness rep­re­sen­ta­tives from across the re­gion serve on the 18-mem­ber com­mis­sion, which is over­seen by the Tri-County Coun­cil of South­ern Mary­land.

Ac­cord­ing to the RFP, the nineyear con­tract will be awarded to a sin­gle en­tity that will have the op­tion to sub­con­tract var­i­ous ser­vices to other ven­dors as needed. The win­ning bid­der would be re­quired to lease or buy a suit­able prop­erty or prop­er­ties for the fa­cil­i­ties.

The de­vel­op­ment com­mis­sion en­vi­sions the pro­cess­ing fa­cil­ity as be­ing ca­pa­ble of pro­cess­ing a min­i­mum of 500 bovines and 2,000 sheep, goats or hogs, as well as hav­ing ad­di­tional ca­pac­ity for poultry. Ide­ally, the fa­cil­ity would have the ca­pac­ity to process 3,000 an­i­mal units per year.

Fund­ing for the project comes from cap­i­tal funds set aside in the state’s 2015 fis­cal year bud­get. Of the $1.5 mil­lion al­lo­cated in the bud­get, $1 mil­lion is avail­able as a low-in­ter­est loan. The re­main­ing $500,000 is in the form of a loan that can be con­verted into a grant. Se­nate Bill 909, passed in 2015, grants the Tri-County Coun­cil the au­thor­ity to al­lo­cate the funds.

The de­vel­op­ment com­mis­sion en­vi­sions the fa­cil­ity as be­ing a pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship.

Martin Proulx, Charles County’s new man­ager of agri­cul­tural busi­ness de­vel­op­ment, said that the county is aware of the RFP but has not been in dis­cus­sions with the agri­cul­tural de­vel­op­ment com­mis­sion.

“We def­i­nitely agree that there’s a de­mand for this fa­cil­ity,” Proulx said. “We are look­ing for­ward to sup­port­ing the process as it moves for­ward.”

“There def­i­nitely does seem to be a strong in­ter­est from the farm­ers,” Proulx said.

A pre-pro­posal conference has been sched­uled for Monday, Oct. 23, at 1 p.m. at the SMECO head­quar­ters au­di­to­rium in Hugh­esville. Bids are due by 4 p.m. on Thurs­day, Feb. 8, 2018. The re­quest for pro­pos­als is avail­able on the de­vel­op­ment com­mis­sion web­site at www.smadc.com.

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