Maple Leaf Foods continues to move forward with its hog business in Manitoba and for the rest of Canada for that matter.
Iain Stewart, senior V-P for fresh pork and the Fresh Pork Leadership Team Maple Leaf Hogs says 2014 was a good year for Maple Leaf in Manitoba both on the hog processing hog raising sides, including the Brandon processing facility.
“A challenging year with lots of unexpected things that we hadn’t really planned for,” says Stewart. “Everything from the change in global pork flows with Europeans blocked out of Russia and all that pork now flowing into markets that it normally wouldn’t flow into and the temporary foreign worker’s is an issue that kind of popped up in 2014 that the industry is now having to managing for.”
On the pork market issue, he says Canada, finally through sanctions helped block the pork business out of Russia too, all having an impact on business in the last quarter of 2014 and continuing to impact in 2015.
“The European export market is very substantial and some of that product flows into Asia and a good portion into Russia,” says Stewart. “When the Russians and Europeans got into a debate over African Swine fever around who had it and who didn’t, they ended up sanctioning each other.”
The subsequent political crisis led to increased sanctions and now all that European pork that used to go to Russia is now looking for another home and ends marketed aggressively into Japan, while some of the European product went to the U.S.
It ends up going into markets, it normally wouldn’t go into. So products already in those markets, either have to fight for share on price, or move to other markets, he adds.
“So there was a lot of disruption in what I would call the global pork flows through the markets being closed either for reasons of disease or political,” Stewart said. “It impacted Canada because a lot of the Canadian processors had a fairly healthy business in Russia. We had a little bit, but don’t do a lot of business in Russia, but our competition did a significant amount of business in Russia and therefore that product had to go elsewhere.”
On the Temporary Foreign Workers issue, the Maple Leaf Foods V-P says unfortunately the industry got tarred by the same brush that many of the other industries that may not always have complied. Unfortunately the primary processing side got caught up in all that as well.
“We now have to live with a different set of regulations than I think we actually didn’t deserve,” he said. “It appears like there may have been abuse of the program within certain other industries, at least that is how the issue started or at least perceived as either being the fast food industry or mining sector with the perception some abused the process itself causing government to radically change everything for everyone.
“Primary processing got caught up in that and I think we were actually pretty good citizens within that program but we have to still live with the same set of changes that everyone else has now,” says Stewart.
He says Manitoba is producing a little more pork through efficiencies both in processing and hog raising sectors. There is always a little bit of a bump because of that.
However, the moratorium still exists in Manitoba so nobody can build barns causing a shortage in the marketplace.
“We will probably, remembering the peaks and valleys, we’ll do between 72,000 and 75,000 a week in the Brandon Maple Leaf plant,” he said. That plant when running full could well do 90,000 on a five day shift. We have it pretty well balanced right now as to how we are running it and we used most of 2014 to get that set up.”
Obviously, he’d like to see that plant full because it always runs better full, but without having those additional hogs available in Manitoba with the inability to build barns, it won’t happen he says. Unless someone else goes out of business, or another one comes up for sale, it will be tough to increase that number.
His message to the current sitting NDP government in Manitoba and subsequent governments is get in to the science or the lack of science of that moratorium.
“I understand why they implemented that moratorium in the first place while trying to figure things out,” Stewart says. “And now they’ve figured that out and Lake Winnipeg pollution has nothing to do with manure from hog farms. That was the original intent behind it.
It should be reopened, revisited and look into building more hog production facilities in Manitoba.”  •
— By Harry Siemens