Plans for local meat processing facility move forward
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.