Highland Agriculture Center Nearing Completion
Monterey, VA – The final phase of construction of the Highland Agricultural Center, north of Monterey, is nearing completion. A covered live-animal marketing facility has been operational since 2008 and the meat processing portion of the center is expected to be open as soon as November or December.
Agriculture project coordinator Scott Smith says the completed facility will provide a variety of services to livestock farmers in Highland County and surrounding areas.
“Farmers and producers are also going to be able to – once the processing facility is finished – to bring their animals in and have them custom processed to their needs,” he says. There will be value-added services; there will be a smoker down there to be making sausage, specialty cuts, that sort of thing. There’s also going to be the multi-purpose room down there, which can be used for meeting space, for training for, perhaps, people that want to work in the meat industry or other things like that.”
Most local farmers currently transport their livestock to facilities in Harrisonburg or Lewisburg, an average distance of 75 miles from Monterey. The long distance is exacerbated by winding roads across mountains to reach those facilities.
Smith says the new Ag Center will reduce transportation costs and travel time, but also reduce the waiting time to get animals processed.
“There’s a bottleneck in processing across the state of Virginia, if not throughout the whole country,” he said. “That’s been identified by the USDA as a problem that they’re looking at. When you have that, you’ve got people who are having to schedule their animals for processing anywhere from three to six months out. There’s that difficulty they face now, and again, the difficulties they face with travel, the costs, the time, the expense to have to do it at another facility. So, we’re bringing that closer to home.”
The cost and time savings for farmers is expected to provide an economic boost to regional agriculture. Smith says the economic boost will have a spillover effect.
“There are circles of economic development that come outside of this project that move throughout the area and the region,” he said. “For instance, there’s been some jobs created down there now by the actual construction of the facility. If you improve the agriculture economy, you improve the economy as a whole because of the other industries around here that support agriculture, such as your farm store, your hardware stores, that sort of thing.”
The center will initially employ three or four workers, including a general manager, but as many as six employees could work at the center in the future. Smith says the idea for a Highland County processing facility was developed after a local farm received a USDA Rural Development grant.
“The idea first got started with a Value Added Producer grant that was done by Jim and Margaret Morse of Mad Maggie Farm in Bluegrass, he said. “They were looking at ways to improve the profitability of sheep through value-added cuts, specialty products that are made, that sort of thing,” he said. One of their primary recommendations that came out of their study was that we explore the possibility of having a USDA processing facility and abattoir here in this region, because what they found from their report was that any type of endeavor such as this around here would be severely hampered by the fact that it was such a long distance, taking up travel, taking up resources to get to a USDA-approved slaughterhouse.”
The center is being built by a local company, owned by local stockholders and funded by private investment of $1 million. In a January press release, the Appalachian Regional Commission cited the Highland Agricultural Center as a model example of public and private partnership. ARC federal co-chair Earl F. Gohl said local leaders deserved the credit.
“Local leaders took a $32,800 federal grant and turned it into $1 million in private investment.” he said. “The result is a stronger livestock industry in Highland, Bath, Pendleton, and Pocahontas Counties. Local leaders had the dream, did the work, and earned the credit.”
Smith said local organizations provided valuable assistance, including the Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Highland-Bath Cattle Association and the Highland Sheep and Wool Producers Association. Mead Westvaco donated the parcel of land along U.S. Route 220 for the center. For a full list of project partners and a sketch of the facility layout, see www.thehighlandcenter.org on the Internet.