Back From China, Talking Goat Herds On A Massive Scale

Written by  Wednesday, 22 February 2017 13:16
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Feihe goat farm, set to expand from 2,500 to 70,000 goats in one year. Feihe goat farm, set to expand from 2,500 to 70,000 goats in one year.

Three days after Richard Allen took on the Economic Development job at Frontenac County, the City of Kingston and the Kingston Economic Development Corporation (KEDCO), came to Frontenac County Chief Administrative Officer Kelly Pender with an invitation.

A high powered delegation of Kingston officials, led by the Mayor, were headed to China for meetings and a tour of facilities at Feihe International, a large baby formula company that is already investing $225 million to build a factory in Kingston and is looking to do more. And they wanted Frontenac County to bring some rural representation to the delegation.

So, even though he was new on the job, and it was going to cost the county $5,000, Allen was dispatched to China. He had an inauspicious start, tearing an abductor just before leaving so he was on crutches throughout the trip, but the trip went well nonetheless,  Frontenac County is at the table  as Feihe makes it aggressive foray into the Kingston region.

Frontenac County is in a position to participate in the growth of Feihe primarily because the company is pursuing goat milk as an alternative to cows milk in the production of baby formula. As Allen noted in his report to Frontenac County Council last week, the potential impact of goat milk production in the vicinity of Kingston is vast, and will transform the community that takes it on.

“Feihe has built a demonstration goat farm with 2,500 goats, but will be scaling up to 70,000 in 2018. Feihe plans to have 7 such farms in operation by 2020,” he said.

To put the scale of these operations in an Ontario context, there are currently 45,000 goats being milked commercially in the entire province.

In his report, Allen said that Feihe does not necessarily expect to see the same kind of goat operations as it is developing in China start up in Ontario, but they will be looking for large amounts of milk to be delivered fresh on an ongoing basis to their baby formula facility for immediate processing.

“Feihe stated their commitment to working with the local supply chain to achieve their needs for goat milk with phase two of the Kingston processing facility, and to find a process that works with our local context to achieve their goals. This may mean a way can be found for farms of various sizes to participate in this opportunity. Staff will work with Feihe, regional partners such as KEDCO and the  Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAFRA) to develop a successful strategy with the farming community” he said.

Feihe International got into the large scale farming business in China after a melamine scandal hit the dairy industry in 2008, affecting the sales prospects for all Chinese dairy products from candies to cheese and milk to baby formula. Feihe responded by setting up modern state of the art indoor farming operations where sanitation and genetics are tightly controlled.

As Allen pointed out in his report, Feihe now operates its farms in China using the same production values as it uses in its formula factory. At a farm with 10,000 dairy cattle that the delegation visited, 240 cows are milked 24 hours a day in 15 minute intervals. The public is invited to see the entire operation, which exceeds all international standards for safe milk production.

He said that the farm is located on a 50 acre parcel of land, and that the cattle are housed in large structures.

The scale that Feihe is looking for in terms of goat milk production is unprecedented in Ontario, and there is certainly a knowledge gap that needs to be overcome in order for the industry to be developed in Eastern Ontario.

“If Frontenac seeks to become the 'Goat Capital of Canada' it will be critical to ensure that our community grows strong base knowledge, education, participate in breeding programs for healthy, resilient goats with excellent genetics, and develops a robust logistics system that allows for farms of many sizes to participate in the supply chain for this anticipated opportunity,” he said.

After the presentation, Councillor John Inglis from North Frontenac said “I'm concerned about the amount of your time that this will take up and if it will affect other Economic Development activities.

Allen answered that he does not see a large time commitment in the short term.

“Over the next 18 months or so it will only involve me participating in occasional meetings. It will not affect the other initiatives we have been working on,” he replied.

He will be reporting back to the County Community Development Advisory Committee (CDAC) in October.

Council voted to cover the costs for the trip to China from their sustainability reserve fund.

(see editorial – Opportunity knocks)

InFrontenac launched
The economic development  department brought a report on the soft launch of a new website, Infrontenac.ca. Designed to promote Frontenac County as a place to invest, Infrontenac.ca is an extension of the #InFrontenac branding initiative that was undertaken last year. The 60 INFrontenac brand ambassadors are featured in the site, which includes links to information about trails and other activities, a business directory, planning and other information that anyone considering visiting or investing in the county could be interested in.

“We made the decision, early on in the process to use only photographs from Frontenac County. There is no generic content on the site,” said Vandervelde.

Allen said that part of what the site does is link to information that is gathered on the county site and on the township sites as well.

Links to www.Infrontenac.ca will be installed on township sites over the next few months.

Stewardship Foundation gets a warm greeting and some money
Gord Rodgers, President of the Frontenac Stewardship Foundation, came to Council looking for some support for the annual retreat that the foundation is holding at the Queen's University Biological Station this April. He updated council on the foundation’s initiatives in fostering local stewardship efforts and hosting public information sessions periodically throughout the year. The capacity of the summit in April, which will feature speakers from various academic disciplines on matters related to stewardship and conservation, is only about 75. Members of county council are invited but must pay the same admission fee as all other attendees.

“We hope to bring in enough to cover costs, but it would make it easier if we had support from the county,” Rodgers said.

He was asking for $2,000 and Council agreed to provide it.

Unfriendly response to Age Friendly presentation
Nadia de Santi and Emily Sangster from the MMM group presented a 35 page Age Friendly Action Plan for Frontenac County. Work on the plan was funded through a $35,000 provincial grant. The goal of the plan is to help Frontenac County better serve its aging population. The consultants worked with staff and members of the Community Development Advisory committee. They set up seniors’ fairs in South and Central Frontenac last fall to get a feel for local needs. The plan that they presented to Council includes census information, general information about the needs of seniors in Ontario and information they gathered locally.

“We see this as a living plan, open to new information and new ideas,” said Nadia De Santi.

The lack of specific information in the plan about Frontenac Islands led Frontenac Islands Mayor Dennis Doyle to question the value of the project.

“We never saw you on Wolfe or Howe Island  and there is nothing in this plan that talks about the reality in our township,” said Doyle.

Councillor Natalie Nossal, who comes from Howe Island, took a less aggressive approach but noted that the plan “is lacking specifics about the islands” and suggested that the perspective of islanders be added in the future.

The proposal in front of Council was to receive the report and move on to develop an implementation plan in concert with the townships, community groups and social service agencies.

Council supported the proposal, with the notable exception of Dennis Doyle.

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