The pork industry in Canada seems to be one sector of agriculture which could literally fade into oblivion.
That is actually a statement I would not have thought I would ever write, but the sector is evidence of how quickly things can change in the area of agriculture.
Pigs were once commonplace on practically every farm in Canada. The raising of a few hogs as a way to create some cash-flow through sales, and to ensure a full freezer, were just part of farmsteads alongside laying hens and a big garden.
But farming began to grow post the big wars, and in the 1970s specialization became the trend from there.
The result was a move to larger farms where having livestock went by the wayside in favour of more acres.
If you were going to raise stock, the land was generally sold off and the herds got bigger and bigger.
The hog industry in particular followed that trend, moving from a sow, or two on virtually every farm, to where 60-sow units where the norm, then 100, 240, and now 2400 or more.
There were supposed economies of scale realized with growth, although over the last 15-years the sector has shown when losses are the norm from the marketplace the red ink can flood and then drown a mega operation rather quickly.
Still, there was reason to believe pigs made sense on the Canadian Prairies, large scale barns included. Again we need to look back within the past 15-years to review that viewpoint.
Large operations need lots of land onto which they can spread manure as a crop nutrient source. There is lots of land on the Prairies, much of it far enough removed from, large population centres who would have issue with the smell.
Smaller rural centres might not have liked the smell either, but there was a need for jobs in such areas which made barns more tolerable.
And farmers needed an alternate place to sell grain as prices never seemed high enough, long enough, to make farming profitable on a year-to-year basis.
Fast forward a few years, and grain prices, pushed up by ethanol demand and overall commodity price strengthening, and low cost feed disappeared.
A strong economy, at least in Saskatchewan offered up jobs that looked better than working with pigs, and that advantage was gone.
Suddenly the hog sector was in disarray with bankruptcies and questions about its future.
And, it appears government policies are hampering the sector even more, at least according to a recent Western Producer article detailing comments by Maple Leaf Foods president Michael McCain to the Manitoba Pork Council annual meetingApril 15.
“Maple Leaf Foods, which owns Canada’s biggest hog slaughter plant in Brandon as well as other major meat processing plants, has long complained about the Manitoba government’s moratorium on new hog barn construction. It says the moratorium has caused slaughter hog numbers to drop to the point that the Brandon second shift has dropped to half its capacity,” states the article.
“As well, the federal government has made it harder for plants to hire foreign workers. It means Maple Leaf would have trouble finding enough people to staff its plant even if the number of slaughter hogs in Manitoba rises.
“McCain said Manitoba is one million pigs per year short of what it needs for its slaughter and processing industry. As well, the Brandon plant is 350 people short of requirements to run full-out.”
Certainly having roadblocks set in front of a sector which has weathered a long period of lows only adds to the problem.
It is clear that if we want hogs raised here, government needs to get out of the way and let the industry try to regain momentum in terms of being viable.
Without governments being on-side with pork sector needs we could see the day when only a few specialty sales herds remain viable and we have to look beyond our borders for the bacon to go with our eggs.  •
— By Calvin Daniels