Sep. 30—TURNER — Once New England's largest egg producer, Hillandale Farms has laid off an unknown number of workers and closed one of its plants here, but told the state it doesn't have any intentions of closing entirely.
The Maine Department of Labor reached out Thursday to provide Rapid Response help sessions for affected employees, but a spokeswoman declined to say how many were laid off.
Hillandale Farms told the Maine Department of Agriculture that it was closing Plant 1 on Sept. 19, spokesman Jim Britt said. At the same time, farm officials signaled that Plant 3 would remain open and "there is no intention of closing and moving out of state, is what we were told," Britt said.
It was unclear how many plants, closed or open, the former DeCoster Egg Farm has.
Multiple messages to Hillandale Farms and its parent company were not returned.
Turner Town Manager Kurt Schaub said he's seen the farm, which is Turner's single-largest taxpayer, shrink over the past several years.
"What it has to do with, to our knowledge anyway, is the apparent increase in demand for cage-free eggs versus the type of operation that that farm is set up for," Schaub said. "We have heard some rumor that they could be exiting Maine. We have expressed an interest in speaking with them about what the future might hold for the site but have not set up anything concrete as of yet."
Indications that some of the operation has shut down are "pretty obvious," he said. "There are several parts of the complex that have been empty for several years. There are a number of outward signs."
Last year, during a discussion about making Maine a cage-free-eggs state, a Turner lawmaker estimated that Hillandale had gone from a high of 5 million egg-laying chickens to close to 1 million.
Stephen Vendemia, president of parent-company Hillandale Farms Conn, said in written testimony for that proposal that Hillandale was "by far the largest supplier of eggs to Maine's market" and that the company's future expansions would only be in facilities with cage-free chickens.
"However, we have also made it clear that there is absolutely no way that we can commit to serving Maine with cage-free eggs from the Turner farm by (Dec. 31, 2024), or by any specific date thereafter," he wrote. "There are just too many variables in the commitments which will have to be in place to guarantee supplying Maine out of Turner."
That bill died last November, according to the Maine Legislature website.
When Hillandale took over the lease for the former DeCoster Egg Farm in 2015 from Moark LLC, the facility had roughly 2.3 million chickens.Fans have stopped at more than one hen barn at Hillandale Farms in Turner. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal