The Farmer John meatpacking plant in Vernon – a frequent target of protests by animal rights activists critical of the treatment of pigs at the facility – will close next year, its Virginia-based owner citing today the rising costs of doing business in California.

According to Smithfield Foods, the plant will close in early 2023. The company is also exploring “strategic options to exit its farms in Arizona and California.”

“Smithfield only harvests company-owned hogs in Vernon,” according to the company. “Smithfield will serve customers in California with its Farmer John brand and other brands and products from existing facilities in the Midwest.

“Smithfield is taking these actions due to the escalating cost of doing business in California,” according to the company.

Related: Smithfield slaughterhouse in Vernon fined $237,537

Company officials said it was providing “transition assistance” to employees at the plant, including “relocation options” to other Smithfield facilities and farms. Farmer John’s operation in Vernon consists of two buildings on 30 acres. The plant employs 1,800 workers who earn an average of $21 an hour, a Smithfield spokesperson said.

“We are grateful to our team members in the Western Region for their dedication and valuable contributions to our mission. We are committed to providing financial and other transition assistance to employees affected by this difficult decision,” Brady Stewart, Smithfield’s chief operating officer, said in a statement.

John Grant, president of UFCW 770, the union representing meat packers at the plant, said he hoped another operator would take over the operation.

“Despite a strong and mutually beneficial relationship with Farmer John employees and their union, Smithfield has decided to exit its California operations,” Grant said in a statement. “A fair deal that compensates their workers until next year has been reached, and we hope that another operator will take advantage of the highly skilled and stable workforce that makes Farmer John’s factory part of productive and profitable Vernon’s packaging infrastructure.

The Vernon factory and its associated pig production farm have been the target of weekly vigils organized by the Animal Alliance network, protesting the treatment of baby pigs raised in cramped conditions until they are loaded onto trucks bound for the slaughterhouse.

“They are crammed into trucks with over a hundred of them crammed together, often with no space to move freely,” according to the organization’s website. “These pigs are usually raised in windowless warehouses and the first time they see the light is when they are loaded onto these trucks.”