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Thumb farmers could feed off new pork plant

(Photo by John Cook)
Mayville-area hog farmers Carla Schultz, left, and her father, Mitch LaBair, say a pork-processing plant opening soon near Coldwater in southern Michigan will boost profits for hog farmers and corn and soybean growers in the state’s highly agricultural Thumb area of Tuscola, Huron and Sanilac counties.

State Sen. Mike Green said a pork-processing plant opening in the fall near Coldwater in southern Michigan will spur construction of hog farms, and boost revenues for corn and soybean growers, in Michigan’s Thumb area.

“I’m sure there will be hog barns built up here for it,” Green (R-Mayville) told The Advertiser after speaking to the Caro Rotary Club earlier this month. “There are going to be 50 or 60 built (in Michigan) south of M-46. That’s where most of them will be.”

Green figures one or more hog barns could be built in the Thumb area as a result of the pork plant’s arrival in Coldwater in Branch County.

The Thumb “is where all the feed’s at – you go to other counties, and the feed’s not there, and then you have to haul it,” Green said.

Clemens Food Group of Pennsylvania will generate 810 jobs on the first shift once the plant opens in the fall, and the plant proposes two shifts in the future, Green said.

“In that plant, that will be about 3 million hogs that will be slaughtered a year, so they have to grow the hogs, and they can’t take them from what’s being grown now, but must have 3 million new hogs per year in order to make it successful,” Green said.

Green told the Caro Rotary Club he expects about 55 new farms to be built to “finish off” the hogs – taking younger pigs and raising them until slaughter – before the animals are processed at Coldwater.  “Positively, this will be great, because we would like to finish out more hogs, and the plant also will be good for our crop producers of the soybean meal that can be shipped to the facilities that people may add to finish more hogs out,” said Carla Schultz, a cash-crop farmer from northern Lapeer County’s Rich Township.

Schultz helps raise hogs with her father, pig farmer Mitch LaBair, also of Rich Township. But Schultz said she and her husband, Paul Schultz, might build a finishing barn in light of the new processing plant at Coldwater.

“We were thinking ‘Let’s build a finishing facility,’ because it’s going to be positive on our end because we can actually use more of our crops, and we can ship (hogs) right to Coldwater and not ship them out of state, so it’s going to be cost-effective for us,” said Carla Schultz, who said she and her husband, along with another couple, are cash-crop farmers based near Kingston.

“Currently the (Thumb) area hogs have to be shipped out of state for processing,” Carla Schultz said.

Linda Middleton of Tuscola County’s Watertown Township, who owns about 600 hogs, said the opening of a pork plant near Coldwater “definitely will” boost revenues for Thumb-area hog farmers and growers of soybeans and corn.

Mitch LaBair said he once raised about 800 pigs a year, but has scaled back for health reasons. LaBair, however, said the Coldwater facility probably will boost revenues for area farmers.

“When I raised 800 pigs a year, I’m transporting them in pickup trailer loads, and it’s too time-consuming for me to go to Coldwater to do that,” LaBair said. “You have to do that almost in semi-loads. But farther up in the Thumb, with the big pig operations, it will help, with the semi-loads. And it will probably certainly help soybean and corn producers, because pigs will be eating more feed.”

Green said that once the pork-processing plant operates two shifts, it will slaughter 8,000 hogs per day.

“Think about it,” Green said. “That’s a lot of hogs. I think at one time I figured out there will be about 50 or 60 semi-loads of hogs, per day, going into the plant.”

Workers will start slaughtering hogs there this fall, Green said.

“Within a couple years, if they put on a second shift, that will be (a total of) 1,600 jobs for Michigan,” said Green, who also noted a soybean-processing plant is preparing to open soon at Ithaca in Gratiot County.

Middleton figures the Ithaca plant will cut feed costs for hog farmers buying soymeal for their pigs. Middleton said she buys soybean meal from a company in Pigeon, which trucks it to her hog farm at a cheaper price than she receives from local sellers.

“If we buy soybean (meal) locally, it’s probably $40 a ton more than what we can have it shipped in for,” Middleton said. “But we get it from Pigeon, and that (Ithaca) soybean plant delivering to Pigeon will save money for us down here, too.”

Some of Michigan’s hog farmers had been shipping pigs to Pennsylvania to a pork-processing plant owned by Clemens Food Group there.

Coldwater “doesn’t seem close, but it’s closer” than the nearest pork-processing plants, Carla Schultz said.

Green said he is in discussions to become state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office in Michigan.

“I’ve been sort of offered a position with the Trump administration,” Green told the Caro Rotary Club. “I haven’t accepted it because I haven’t got the offer, but it’s probably going to come. We’re expecting it to come. I was recommended by the Congressional delegation and by a number of other folks for (the position).”

The state USDA Rural Development office provides funds for housing, health care, economic development and infrastructure, overseeing a $1 billion annual budget.

“Three-quarters of it goes to single-family dwellings” through loans or other aid, while other funds go to multi-family dwellings, Green said.

When asked if he could provide more monetary help to the Thumb area than the current state director, Green said “I’m already looking at it – those are some things that, as the director, I can determine where we focus.”

 

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