VIDEO: Manitoba hog industry urged to rebuild

Provincial gov’t relaxes moratorium on new barn construction as pork council asks producers to expand the industry

A lot of little ideas could make the next generation of Manitoba hog feeder barns a lot cheaper.

That’s the hope of industry leaders as they encourage farmers to start considering building new and replacement barns that incorporate fresh ideas from farmers and suppliers across the industry.

Persuading farmers to build and produce is vital because Manitoba desperately needs more than one million more feeder pigs per year to get underused packing plants such as the one in Brandon going at full speed.

“We need to have more finisher barns in the province,” Manitoba Pork Council general manager Andrew Dickson told the Manitoba Swine Seminar Feb. 3.

“We need to bring more balance between our structural capacity and our processing capacity, and we’re short pigs.”

The provincial government has slightly relaxed its moratorium on hog barn construction, allowing a handful of barns to be built in a pilot project that follows strict rules and oversight. Dickson said pork council had hoped that three or four new barns would be built this year, but “it’s getting late now.”

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Dozens of barns are needed to produce the market hogs to help comfortably supply the plants in Brandon and Neepawa, so the immediate problem will not be soon resolved.

However, Dickson hopes a steady stream of farmers going through the approval protocol will start to alleviate the critical situation. Maple Leaf’s second shift in Brandon is running far beneath capacity because of the diminishing number of market hogs available.

Manitoba’s hog industry has shrunk in recent years as it was hit by a bewildering array of challenges: a provincial moratorium that froze construction of new facilities, country-of-origin labelling in the United States that devastated sow farms reliant on U.S. buyers and the surge of the Canadian dollar in the late 2000s to early 2010s, which demolished profitability.

However, the industry is now making money and recovering from many of the challenges. The moratorium is relaxing, COOL is history and the Canadian dollar is back to levels common in most of the years since the early 1980s.

The pork council posted a couple of feeder barn designs on its website in December, including details on costs, but it is also soliciting farmer and industry feedback on how to shave costs.

The 2,000 place feeder barn originally cost $600 per place, but the cost could fall to $500 if the barn increases to 4,000 spots.

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However, Dickson thinks innovative ideas could significantly lower those costs:

  • How could standard building materials be used to replace custom-sized materials used in today’s barns?
  • Are all the slat and ventilation systems used now necessary, or are some overbuilt?
  • Could designs themselves be tweaked to be cheaper?

These are the questions the pork council is asking the industry.

Dickson said Farm Credit Canada’s willingness to loan higher amounts of money against construction of new facilities is a further piece of good news.

Until recently, FCC would loan only 65 percent of the cost of barns built for $250 per hog place, but that’s far beneath realistic contemporary costs, Dickson said.

FCC is now willing to lend up to 65 percent of $500 per place.

There will likely be a great amount of construction in Manitoba’s hog industry at some point. Little new building has occurred for almost a decade, so not only is there need for many new feeder barns to raise piglets that are now shipped south, but the barns of the last expansion are wearing out.

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“Our barns are aging and we’re going to have to start replacing capacity to produce the existing number of pigs,” said Dickson.

  • John Fefchak

    re:”Maple Leaf’s second shift in Brandon is running far beneath capacity because of the diminishing number of market hogs available”. Although not mentioned. credit to Mr. McCain must be recognized for he was also responsible and played a huge role in the bewildering array of challenges.

    Lets face some other facts also. Bad ideas and poor operating principles are extremely costly and Manitoba’s hog industry is also destructive to the environment says experts, and the return to small scale, mixed operation farming is needed to combat the influence of industrial hog operations in the province.You can’t raise animals in factories and be environmentally benign says Joe Dolecki, professor of environmental economics at Brandon University.

    Furthermore, the Manitoba NDP government is not responsible for the impairment of the Brandon Maple Leaf slaughter plant shortages as has been suggested. The province is not responsible for the governance decisions in this matter,and finger pointing at them alone cannot be justified, as others are also involved.

    The shutting down of barns,the drastic culling of the sow herd and the killing of piglets was all accomplished by the hog industry itself. The province had nothing to do with the reduction.

    However, once again, taxpayers dollars were spent to keep this industry afloat.

    Mr. McCain needs to look in the mirror and take note that his company also played a supreme role in the hog reduction that he has addressed previously. If Maple Leaf is so desperate for hogs to keep its plant running at full capacity, why did Maple Leaf downsize its sow herd from 109,000 to 40,000- sows in 2008? To transfer more risk to producers perhaps? A reduced sow herd inventory by 69,000 would account for some 1.7 million fewer piglets.
    Putting lipstick on the factory hog industry and slamming government only demonstrates that his own research was lacking facts and he is not being responsible. He is part of the hog shortage problem.

    Factory raised hogs continue to be mistreated, and even found starving for lack of nourishment.
    They perish in questionable factory barn fires and die from a ventilation breakdown, and the list goes on. They are a commodity and suffer the markets and high grain prices.
    The stewardship of our food animals, water and environment is in dire need of a complete overhaul and education.
    It is time to to revert back to the fundamentals and basics of caring
    for animals and being grateful.

  • John Fefchak

    To the Editor……Guess I should have left well enough alone and not do any editing?

  • Tyler

    Unless you forgot the last 20 years, most farmers know the pork industry is way to unstable to bet the farm on (literally). Early 90’s was the last big push to produce more and it might of turned out well if the NDP hadn’t funded big sky to the tune of 50 some million dollars. The conservatives put an end to that it after they were elected in sask thank god but it was to late. Govt funded big barns pushed all the little farmers out of the game due to oversupply which is what really killed the market (not cool or the dollar). When I was young almost every farm had a couple hundred hogs and there was a producer every couple miles, now there is none.

    • John Fefchak

      Single Desk System not for Hog Producers, and there goes the family farm.
      Manitoba Working for Farmers, a letter by Ron Kostyshyn,
      ( Interlake Enterprise, 27 May 2015 )
      The Manitoba Minister of Agriculture reiterates the support of the NDP government for the CWB (Canadian Wheat Board) , while members of the opposition sat on their hands. He tells us “the end of of the single desk system means farmers are getting a smaller piece of the pie”. No argument or disagreement there.

      As he recognizes that farmers,selling grain, are getting a smaller piece of the pie, I wonder how he feels about hog producers,”who had” the single desk selling feature removed by the Conservative Filmon government to
      promote / better open marketing for a competitive industry….Maple Leaf.
      in 1996. What about the smaller size of their pie?

      In 1972 under Premier Ed Schreyer, the provincial government created the
      Manitoba Hog producers Marketing Board with single-desk selling powers.
      Any packer who wanted to purchase hogs had to buy from the single-deak seller. This collective-bargaining power had been a long-standing demand of hog producers. In opposition, the NDP had promised to restorer it, so farmers were optimistic that an injustice would soon be reversed when the NDP returned to office in 1999.

      Now,seventeen years later and holding power,no further action has taken place. Michael Mc Cain, President of Maple Leaf and the sultan of hogs is in complete control.
      Promise Made.…Promise Broken.