Abattoir needs staff, but finances looking up

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer

The Rainy River Abattoir is heading in the right direction, and in better financial shape than recent years, but there is still work to be done to ensure the service continues to be offered in the region, said abattoir treasurer Kim Jo Bliss.

Bliss said the organization still owes money, but they took out a loan to pay off their taxes.

“We don’t have that huge tax bill hanging over our heads,” Bliss said. “Sure, we owe it somewhere else. But when we owed it to the town that was a little more stressful.”

Bliss reported during the abattoir’s annual general meeting that FedNor is expected to forgive their $500,000 loan in the near future. The abattoir’s taxes are around $17,000 per year, and Bliss said they are making monthly payments.

Bliss also said processing staff housed at Rainy River Meats note the lack of freezer space in the building is causing a backlog. Bliss added that they are considering their options, given they lease the building currently.

The abattoir is also in need of staff, Bliss said, especially as Secretary Marg Irvine is stepping down on at the beginning of the new year.

“Our biggest [problem] is staff. We’re still looking for staff. We are in a good spot right now, but we know that we have two key people that won’t be available next spring,” Bliss said. “The backlog in our system is also the process, like cutting and wrapping meat.”

There are nine directors on the board, after the manager resigned in August. Bliss said they have someone temporarily in that position.

“There’s people moving on, so we’re always looking. But we’re not unlike anyone else in the district. Take a look at all the jobs that are in the Fort Frances Times,” Bliss said. “We’re competing with a lot of other businesses that are looking for people too. Unfortunately, we can’t afford to pay as well as some of the other places. We would like to see that happen. Don’t get me wrong.”

Bliss said they are always looking for people to show interest because the abattoir is a tough business, run by a volunteer board, who are just trying to break even.

The abbatoir has been in operation for twelve years, providing an important service to cattle farmers across the district. Prior to that, Bliss said 150 people would show up complaining about wanting an abattoir.

“For me, the reward is that I can make good use of [the abattoir], and I can get food easily to my friends and to my family,” Bliss said. “It’s a bit of a frustrating job, but yet we all benefit from it – not just farmers, but the whole community.”

Bliss said the Rainy River Abattoir continues to struggle reaching profitability, and it more or less provides a service, because there is not a lot of money in operations of that size.

“Unless you’re going to talk about volumes,” Bliss said, “This abattoir is a small kill and chill. They butcher the animal; they chill them and then they go for further processing. There’s just not a lot of money in small plants. It’s not that the business is ever going to be financially great, but we need to be able to pay our bills.”

Bliss stressed that while they have improved, they are not completely where they want to be.

“We still owe a lot of money,” Bliss said. “We just have to increase our flow. We could be putting more animals to the abattoir, but we don’t have enough people cutting and wrapping. If it is not one thing, it’s another.”