More NORPAC layoffs, closures

Bankrupt Oregon fruit and vegetable cooperative NORPAC warned Wednesday it will be shutting down its two facilities in Salem, leading to layoffs of more than 900 employees.

The co-op had already said it planned to let go of nearly 500 employees in September as it began shutting down its Stayton plant.

Wednesday’s announcement brings the total number of layoffs resulting from the co-op’s bankruptcy to 1,409.

When the company originally announced it would be shutting down its plant in Stayton, it had seemed like its two Salem facilities might be spared the same fate.

The Oregon Potato Company had said it wanted to purchase NORPAC and continue most of its operations.

But the company withdrew from the deal last month citing regulatory issues, and NORPAC has not found a buyer to replace them.

The Capital Press reported Wednesday that NORPAC is in talks with four potential buyers.

But in a letter notifying employees of the recent round of layoffs, the co-op’s president and CEO, Shawn Campbell, said it has yet to strike a deal that would allow the two facilities to stay open.

“While NORPAC has continued to have discussions with companies about purchasing some or all of NORPAC’s assets, as of today NORPAC does not yet have a buyer,” wrote Campbell.

He added that, while the co-op is looking for additional financing, “there is no guarantee that this will happen.”

Layoffs at both facilities are anticipated to take effect in the middle of January.

Chickens headed to China after ban

China is lifting a five-year ban on U.S. poultry, a goodwill gesture at a time when the world’s two biggest economies are trying to finalize a tentative trade deal.

China had blocked U.S. poultry imports a month after an outbreak of avian influenza in December 2014, closing off a market that bought more than $500 million worth of American chicken, turkey and other poultry products in 2013.

“The United States welcomes China’s decision to finally lift its unwarranted ban on U.S. poultry and poultry products. This is great news for both America’s farmers and China’s consumers,” said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who predicted that U.S. poultry exports to China could surpass $1 billion a year.

The decision out of Beijing is effective immediately and the announcement sent shares of major U.S. chicken processors, Sanderson Farms, Tyson Foods and Pilgrim’s Pride to new highs for the year Thursday.

The Chinese market looks especially promising for U.S. poultry producers because an outbreak of African swine fever has devastated a competing protein in China: pork.

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