Still seeking answers on Smuckers/Bicks closures

By MPP Toby Barrett

We are watching the further demise of food processing, and its contracts to area farmers, with the slated closure of Smucker’s Delhi tank farm and Dunnville processing plant. It is with some melancholy, as we recognize Remembrance Day, that we also recall seventy years ago, our area sent tons of locally grown and processed jam for British children, courtesy area Women’s Institutes.

Recently, I gave Mr. McGuinty and a handful of his Ministers a number of opportunities to publicize steps they have taken, or are planning, following the Smucker’s announcment.

I began the week by following up on requests I made in September for, “the Premier to pick up the phone and to call Smuckers after news the company would be closing its Bick’s Dunnville processing as well as its Delhi tank farm.”

As most know, these closures will devastate the town of Dunnville, as well as farmers who grow cucumbers, peppers, beets, onions, cauliflower, and tomatoes.

In Delhi, we are talking about the possible demise of a 73 acre tank farm established in 1998 by US based Robin Hood Multifoods. With 600 vats, brining 60,000 pounds of cucumbers– this was one of the most modern tank farms in North America.

When Smuckers bought the holdings of Robin Hood Multifoods in 2006, the investment in Delhi was worth $12 million and the facility at one time boasted contracts with 200 growers – providing 300 seasonal jobs. The tank farm meant a lot more: offshore and local farm workers, many of them Mexican German Mennonite, enjoyed steady employment, and the bridge that cucumbers provide between asparagus and strawberries through to the tobacco and apple season.

Meantime in Haldimand County, where Bick’s consolidated its vegetable processing business in Dunnville after closing down production in Scarborough in 2001, the closure news is equally devastating. The Dunnville facility has employed up to 260 full and part time not including farmers affected.

Bicks, with closing the doors on its 385,000 square foot processing plant, is Dunnville’s final industry in the downtown core. This was the largest employer in Haldimand behind US Steel, OPG Nanticoke and Imperial Oil.
In what seems to be a recurring theme, Smucker’s is planning to close down these local facilities and their related jobs, as well as a jam and jelly facility in Ste. Marie, Quebec, while the company expands in Orrville, Ohio and Ripon, Wisconsin.

Back in the Legislature, the Minister of Agriculture stood up to express that the government “understands” before boasting about their investments into rural Ontario – investments that serve as cold comfort to those left without a job.

This is shades of McGuinty’s inaction in 2008 with the loss of peach and pear canning operations in St. Davids. Cangro closed shop after more than 100 years because they discovered in a McGuinty Ontario it’s more efficient to can fruit from China.

Now we have the spectre of more pickles being shipped in from India – when they can be grown, brined, and bottled locally.

While I filed my dissatisfaction with the answer – prompting a late show debate – I was left with little more in the way of concrete explanations as to the actions of government to prevent the further depletion of jobs within our area.