The two big swine shows in Western Canada, Banff Pork Seminar and the Manitoba Swine Seminar in Winnipeg in early February saw their biggest numbers in many years. In Banff, over 650 delegates from across the country and in Winnipeg near 500. Only several short years ago, those numbers were much less, and the interest and attitudes waning.
Two good years with 2014 being the best for hog farmers ever, tends to do that.
However, that doesn’t mean the industry is out of the woods just yet, competition, politics world-wide, fluctuating exchange rates, and supply and demand keeps the industry on its toes.
At the Manitoba Swine Seminar, Dr. Sandra Edwards, a professor of agriculture with Newcastle University is encouraging the Canadian pork industry to maintain frank and open dialogue with consumers to avoid the type of mistrust of agriculture consumers have in Europe.
While making some good points, it is confusing where this mistrust comes from because many activists who want their way and don’t mind saying so, often represent 10 to 15 per cent of the actual dislike and distrust.
Although both farmers and consumers fundamentally want good animal welfare, not everyone agrees on what good animal welfare means.
Edwards says the public has always had an interest in animal welfare but what’s changed is fewer and fewer of the public have a close connection with farming.
“That means their perception of animal welfare is perhaps less well informed than previously,” she says. “We now have a situation where high profile examples of poor practice are out there in the public domain and the public don’t necessarily have the balancing view on how common or unusual that poor practice is.”
Dr. Edwards says that means they can get a very poor perception of the industry, poorly balanced, but something the industry must guard against. In Canada, there is a great deal of trust between the general public and the agriculture industry.
“That’s something which perhaps in Europe we neglected and lost,” she says. “I hope in Canada we don’t make the same mistake. I think by engaging in dialogue and by showing good faith, the industry should be able to retain that trust and that’s good for all.”
Dr. Edwards says scientists summarized good animal welfare into four categories, good feeding, good housing, good health and appropriate behavior. If scientists can demonstrate, from the pig’s point of view, what good animal welfare is, it will be possible for people on both sides of the debate to reach a consensus.
Stewart Cressman, the chair of Swine Innovation Porc says swine industry research conducted in partnership with the federal and provincial governments is focusing on improving the global competitiveness of Canada’s pork producers.
However, staying competitive, something foreign to farmers and farm organizations not that long ago, is now at the forefront for all, too.
Under Growing Forward 2 funding provided by the federal and provincial governments to support research, the industry must match it one dollar for one dollar.
In January, pork producer organizations in seven provinces agreed to contribute funding to support research through Swine Innovation Porc.
Cressman says it doesn’t benefit the industry if new results don’t filter down to the end user, so any research must mean something to all segments of the value chain especially, the producers.
“Certainly the producers are putting the majority of money on the line through the different provincial pork associations,” he said.
Cressman says when research yields results, they’re assisting the researchers in delivering those results to the different farms across this country.  •
— By Harry Siemens