When the federal government announced the Hog Farm Transition program on August 15, 2009, many producers at their wits end, took the buyout, some to finally exit with some dignity, others to wait around, look after their empty barns and see what happens.
All barns participating in the Hog Farm Transition program had to be completely empty by March 31, 2011 to comply with program terms and conditions of the contribution agreement with Agriculture and AgriFood Canada.
Some producers were quite happy to take the cheques, while for others, when they saw the pork prices rise, had second thoughts. Others, as one colony reported, hadn’t cashed the cheque and returned it to the program thinking they could do better staying in the hog business.
It took Don Esler of Pilot Mound three tries to collect under the federal government’s Hog Farm Transition Program with a bid of just under 800 dollars per animal unit on 131 animals units.
“I did put in the lower bid and I was accepted this time,” said Esler from his farm home near Pilot Mound in an earlier interview.
For him, it closed the door on an important chapter of his life. Having decided to get out of hog production in August, before he knew of this program, makes this a fitting closing to that chapter.
“I am appreciative of the fact there are a few dollars coming my way that sort of recovered the losses that I incurred the last few years,” he said. “I’m not out of pocket or anything, but have to still do some figuring, but even had some return on my labour.”
To him, there is life after hogs.
Hog and grain farmer John Preun of Selkirk, MB took the other route to maintain his barn and biding his mandatory three-year period of keeping it empty with the thought of getting back at the right time.
“Yes we are back in the hog business deciding to fill our barn again and custom feed for Maple Leaf Foods in Brandon,” says Preun in a recent interview. “We are using it as a risk management tool basically getting a cheque every month for the work we do.”
On his farm, they kept the hog barn in good shape, despite not raising hogs in it, maintaining the heat in the barn and controlling the rodents, checking weekly and it kept quite well for three years.
“We provide the labour and the facility to finish hogs that Maple Leaf owns or they purchase from an outside producer,” said Preun. “The company pays us per square foot for our facility divided by 12 months and that is how they pay us.”
Maple Leaf delivers the pigs at around seven to eight weeks of age, anywhere from 60 to 66 pounds and Preun feeds them right up to market weight, 270 to 280 pounds. He doesn’t run any other pigs on the side, it is an all in all out facility.
“Biosecurity is a very big key factor with Maple Leaf. They are all over us to make sure that we’re following their protocols, limiting visitors totally to the site,” he says. “That works out really quite well for us. We are three miles away from the closest barn and really the only people that come close to the barn are the Maple Leaf staff themselves when they bring in supplies and feed.”
The hog expansion moratorium in Manitoba continues to take its toll to the point where a spokesman for Maple Leaf says they’ve squeezed out every ounce of production from the producer in the Manitoba industry as it now stands, but the hog moratorium still stands.
“Yes, the hog moratorium is still there and of course Maple Leaf is actively seeking more production units to keep their killing plant full because that’s the name of the game,” says Preun. “They make money when their facility processes at a 100 percent capacity and we’re far short of that now.”
He says the hog moratorium really put the brakes on any expansion at that time or any investment in the industry.
How can we loosen that logjam?
“That whole moratorium was overdone with much political pressure to do that at the time, but I think science tells us we [the hog industry] weren’t the sole contributors to the algae blooms in Lake Winnipeg,” he says. “We need some sort of common sense approach to loosening the knot on the moratorium and letting the constructing of buildings go forward based on their own site manure management plans.”  •
— By Harry Siemens