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Highbury CanCo can process tomatoes in Leamington Heinz plant

Highbury CanCo has received a conditional one-year license to process tomatoes at the Heinz plant in Leamington.

Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission licence means company can start signing contracts with farmers

The tomato processing plant in Leamington quietly changed hands on the weekend. (CBC File Photo)

Highbury CanCo has received a conditional one-year license to process tomatoes at the Heinz plant in Leamington.

The company must still work out a final deal with the food giant to use its facility, which would otherwise shut down in June.

The conditional license granted by the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission means Highbury CanCo can start signing contracts with local farmers.

The commission told CBC Windsor it looks at applications based on their ability to operate processing facilities and the applicant's experience. The commission said Highbury CanCo met the requirements

In February Highbury signed a letter of intent to become a contract packer for Heinz, which will cease its own operations in Leamington in June.

Highbury CanCo will continue to produce tomato juice and other products for Heinz in the same 105-year-old plant.

Approximately 1,000 full- and part-time workers will lose their jobs when that happens. Some will be hired by Highbury CanCo.

It's believed fewer tomatoes will be needed, according to John Mumford with the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers.

"I think there's uncertainty," he said "We've had some calls from growers asking if we've heard anything or know any more about who they may be selecting so that they can continue to plan.

"Obviously, if they're not going to grow tomatoes, they have to make plans to grow something else. Some are looking at the need for labour requirements, or do they condition machinery?"

Mumford believes Highbury CanCo has arranged for tomato seedlings to be grown in greenhouses. He says they will need to be planted in fields in early May.

After one year, Highbury CanCo will need to reapply for a license.

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