Working with the Manitoba government has been frustrating for those in the pork industry in that province, Karl Kynoch told a symposium in Saskatoon.
Kynoch, chair of Manitoba Pork, might have been putting it mildly, based on the story he told delegates during a roundtable discussion at Saskatchewan Pork Industry Symposium. Other members of the panel were Florian Possberg (chair of Saskatchewan Pork), Rick Bergman (president-elect of the Canadian Pork Council), and Ben Woolley (Western Canadian Swine Health Alliance chair). Frank Novak, chair of Alberta Pork, was unable to attend due to a death in his family.
Kynoch said he was working on a pilot project with the provincial government when three MLAs said something that made his jaw drop.
“Would you believe that one of the suggestions from our government to increase pigs going into the plant in Brandon was actually to build the barns in Saskatchewan?” he said. “Honestly, when I was told that by three MLAs, I looked at them and said, ‘What about the municipalities, what about all the tax dollars, spinoffs and jobs for our province?’
“‘Oh, that’s not important, we need pigs for the Brandon plant,’’’ he quoted the MLAs as saying in reply.
“This is what I am telling you,” he told delegates at the industry roundtable. “Continue to work on a positive note with your government. When things happen like that, ‘Go build in another province,’ that is just like, ‘Wow, this isn’t about economics for the province.’
“In Manitoba, the hog industry brings $1 billion to the GDP of the province. We are bigger than Manitoba Hydro that everyone talks about. But when you get comments back like that, it’s pretty frustrating.”
Kynoch said he sees a different attitude in Saskatchewan.
“I had the pleasure of sitting with your deputy minister of agriculture (Karen Aulie), and hearing her comments last night as well. I actually tried to pack into my suitcase and take her back home to Manitoba today to see if we could get some help there,” he said with a laugh.
He said the industry has clearly been a political pawn when it comes to getting barns built in his home province. He said a number of times government has set the bar. Each time the industry met it, the bar was raised.
“I guess they felt it didn’t suit their public policy or their election procedures coming up,” he said.
The roundtable discussion covered a number of topics, including PED, temporary foreign workers, country of origin labelling and the state of the industry.
“We’ve endured some tough times; now we have some good times,” Possberg said of the industry. “We hope to have a significant rebound. In Western Canada, we still have some good things going on, as there is a need for more animal protein globally.
“I think we have a very significant role to play in that. But we do have some challenges. We haven’t had any new construction for quite some time. Eventually our facilities will wear out, with some of them quicker than others. If we are going to maintain the critical mass, we are going to have to replace existing facilities.”
Bergman said the future looks bright for industry, noting $3 billion worth of product was exported to a total of more than 100 countries last year.
“We have something that others not only want, but need. We are positioned very well strategically to continue to build our export market because of some of the things we have in place,” Bergman said. “The economic development that you as producers here and across Canada provide for the country is over $13 billion on an annual basis … That’s something we can celebrate. We are a significant entity here.”
Possberg said finding good workers has become a challenge.
“Quite frankly, there have been times when I’ve been happy just somebody shows up. How we produce our hogs efficiently and in a climate of good animal welfare is going to be a real challenge if we can’t get our arms around the human resources challenge.”
He said he was fortunate when he was able to hire a number of foreign workers for his operation.
“We’re at the point now where I think any operation, big or small, is pretty much dependent (on foreign workers).”
Possberg said when he opened a couple of new units he applied for workers through the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program.
“We were told we would start getting people last February and it took until August for them to start showing up. I am the kind of person who doesn’t sleep very well at night when I have things heavily on my mind. I can tell you I lost a lot of sleep before we had people show up.”
He said the low unemployment has been a barrier to finding good employees.
“You end up finding people, but sometimes they don’t have very good work habits; sometimes there are all kinds of issues. And to have the immigrants come on stream, people that are happy to come to work, because they have come here specifically to create a new life for their families, to show enthusiasm, dedication and to be dependable workers. It’s sort of like having a hockey team where you have people who don’t how to skate and you are replacing them with trained professionals.
“(Foreign workers) have been such a blessing to our company. Quite frankly, I am not sure I would be here today if it wasn’t for the opportunity to have these foreign workers come in. They provide such security. We know they are going to be dependable, well trained and everything you need for taking good care of our businesses.”
Woolley said plants are also having problems finding staff.
“They do not have enough people to staff their floors. If a plant closes, it affects every single person in this room. We all rely on the pork industry for our livelihoods. And when we start losing pork plants and when pork plants start having to cut back on their kills because they don’t have enough people, it is a real issue.
“Every single person in this room needs to contact their Member of Parliament and talk to them about this issue, and make sure they are aware of it because it is a Western Canadian issue.”
Woolley said he recently spoke with a representative of the High River plant.
“They have 300 temporary foreign workers that are supposed to go back home at the end of this year and they are already 200 people short. How do you run a plant when you are 500 people short? We have to get something done about this. It has to be on priority and it has to be done now or we are all going to run into problems.”
Kynoch led the discussion on PED, given Manitoba had a number of cases earlier this year.
“That has been front and centre all summer,” he said. “Manitoba Pork has assisted with some of the cleanup on these sites.”
He said that includes paying for some of the washing, hiring wash crews and purchasing disinfection products. In addition Manitoba Pork paid for a large number of vet visits. “We paid for those visits because we wanted to make sure the testing was done right and to get them cleaned up. We have been working with government to help increase the bio securities. We have been supporting trying to get new wash bays up and new drying bays up and trying to make sure we have the capacity for that. What we tell everybody is consider all high traffic sites as positive. Always deal with your barn door and make that your line of defence.”
He said there has been a push on tagging trucks.
“I think this has really been a Manitoba issue where we have the trucks that are coming back from the U.S. They get tagged; they go to a credited wash station before they are allowed to go back to farms. The one challenge with that is it only involves trucks that are coming back from another farm. It doesn’t involve the ones coming back from packing plants.”
Kynoch said it is a concern that trucks coming into Manitoba will be washed in the U.S., if a CFIA program is cancelled.
“We have concerns about that: recycled water being used on the trucks, bringing contaminated hoses into the trucks and it being done in a country that doesn’t have the same attitude toward PED as we do. We are trying to control it here, whereas in the U.S. it’s run wild. If they are washed there, we couldn’t have any control of the wash bays or on the protocols on how it’s done. We are going to work on that, and work closely with our Western counterparts on that.”
Bergman said work is ongoing on the long-running country of origin labelling dispute.
“It’s a huge file that takes a lot of time. It’s ongoing and we anticipate that at the end of the day, common sense will prevail.”
He said he is all for retaliatory actions against the United States.
“There is debate on that. I am very much in favour of it. We need to defend what’s been taking away from us. Then we have to have retaliatory actions. I know that is the view of our federal ag minister as well.
“We have to take our Boy Scouts hats off and put our negotiating business hats on and draw a line in the sand. We have all been discriminated against and it has negatively affected a lot of farms across the country. It’s not right and it has to get fixed.”  •
— By Cam HutchinsonScreen Shot 2014-12-03 at 10.11.27 PMmposi