The Macon County Board of Commissioners voted to support the new Western North Carolina Regional Livestock Center in Haywood County with $5,000 in funds to go toward completing the facility in time for its first livestock sale scheduled for mid- March. The money will go to the WNC Communities Association, the non-profit organization which has spear-headed the project, along with a promised match of 50 percent from Buncombe County, for a total of $7,500.
The beef cattle industry is one of the largest sources of agricultural income for the county. According to County Commissioner Ronnie Beale, 5,600 cattle on 155 different cattle farms are in Macon County. “It is a larger industry than you may realize,” Beale said. He explained that since the closing in 2006 of the livestock market in Asheville, Macon County farmers have been forced to take their cattle to markets in Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina or elsewhere.
In a letter to the board, Jackson-Macon- Swain Cattlemen’s Association president Jim Ledford encouraged the board to support the project, explaining that the establishment of the center would be a boon to the regional economy as many producers would take advantage of the shorter transport time and distance with the associated cost savings that such a facility could provide. “More of our money will stay in WNC and employment opportunities and services for producers will be increased in our region,” Ledford said of the potential impact for the region.
Construction of the livestock center, located near Canton, is almost complete. According to WNC Communities Vice President L.T. Ward, the final stage of construction including the installation of pens, chutes, and cattle raceways should be completed within weeks.
“The contribution from Macon County came at an ideal time,” Ward said, adding that the support of local producers and communities has been invaluable in bringing the project to completion.
The market will serve the state’s 19 westernmost counties, and will process an estimated 40,000 head of cattle a year to be exported to other parts of the region. The facility, which is located near the industrial park in Canton, will be producer governed, said Ward. “Producers will have continuous input into its operation and services,” he explained.
The center will be operated at by the South East Livestock Exchange of Waynesville, but will be “producer owned” with a profit sharing agreement that will funnel funds back into maintenance of the facility as well as promotional and educational programs. For example, the center will create opportunities for local cattle farmers to improve the quality of their product through the Beef Quality Assurance program. Education and training programs on the BQA protocol through N.C. State University will allow producers to increase the value of their product by as much as 15 percent, Ward said.
Many counties in the region, including Buncombe, Henderson and Transylvania counties, have already contributed to the $3.1 million construction budget for the state-of-the-art facility. Local contributions from counties and producers have totaled more than $169,000 to date. According to Ward, the majority of the funding for the project came through grants from groups such as the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, the Golden LEAF Foundation, the N.C Rural Center, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the N.C. Agricultural Development Farmland Preservation Trust Fund.
Among the other counties which have given funds to the project, Haywood County gave $25,000, Jackson County, $15,000, Henderson County, $15,000, and Transylvania County, $5,000. Buncombe County contributed $25,000 and agreed to match 50 percent for all additional funds collected after November 2010 which will include Macon County’s contribution.
“I think it will be a benefit to Macon County cattle farmers for many years to come,” Beale told his fellow board members at the Feb. 8 meeting.