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Business and Economy

Hillandale Farm's Turner egg processing plant closure may have a domino effect on organic farming in Maine

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Susan Sharon
/
Maine Public
The former DeCoster egg farm in Turner in August 2015.

Hillandale Farms, an egg producer in Turner, has closed a plant and laid off workers.

The closure may have a domino effect on organic farming in Maine. State Senator Jeff Timberlake of Turner, a farmer himself, says Maine's organic farms rely on chicken manure from Hillandale for their operations. Cutting off that supply, he says, will impact them as they struggle to compete financially with larger producers outside of Maine.

"It's what helps keep the organic industry going because chicken manure is an approved organic fertilizer and once these guys go it's going to really affect that industry and it's something we need to talk about," Timberlake says.

Timberlake says Massachusetts, one of Hillandale's biggest markets, will require eggs to come from cage-free chickens starting in January. He says raising cage-free chickens is expensive and that Hillandale's other operations to the south of Maine can fill those orders more cost efficiently.

Calls to Hillandale Farms about the scope of the closure and layoff were not returned Wednesday. Turner Town Manager Kurt Schaub says it's a big hit for Turner, which once called Hillandale Farms its largest taxpayer and employer.

"Traditionally they have been a significant employer. Our interest is in maintaining our tax base and finding a productive use for the site," Schaub says.

Schaub says Turner Selectmen have reached out to Hillandale officials to meet with them about next steps for the farm and property. Maine Department of Agriculture spokesman Jim Britt and Sen. Timberlake say the company is still running a plant in town and told them it intends to keep operating in Maine. The Maine Department of Labor says it's Rapid Response team is in touch with the farm and will provide career services to affected employees.