Who is standing up for hog farmers?

I was delighted to hear that Manitoba’s film industry experienced its best year in a decade in 2016,  keeping 1,600 workers busy with $127 million in projects.

That’s a big deal here in Winnipeg, where I write. In my own neighbourhood you can often see strings of trucks lining side streets as one home or another is used as a movie set for a few days. When I’m driving my daughters around in our minivan and I see these trucks, I’ll call out: “Look girls, they’re making a movie.” And I’ll point out that it might even be one of the American Girl movies that they love, and which are often made here.

Lots of Winnipeggers are thrilled to see a busy movie industry here, and they should be. A busy industry means not just direct jobs and spending, but often many times as much spinoff spending and employment. That’s good for my city.

But why does nobody other than farmers ever seem to celebrate or cheer about the hog industry, the way people do with movies? After all, it is much, much, much more important than the movie industry, which is an undependable industry based on tax giveaways and a (temporarily?) low Canadian dollar. The hog industry is roughly ten times as important, with more than one billion dollars in revenues just from the pigs and meat themselves, and employing around 16,000 people.

The spinoffs are much greater. Not only is hog slaughter the biggest employer in Brandon (Manitoba’s second largest city), the cause of an economic boom in Neepawa (swelling the population with hundreds of immigrants settling there), and providing hundreds of processing jobs in Winnipeg, but across rural Manitoba people work in barns, trucking and many other businesses servicing the huge sector.

However, the industry is generally not the source of praise from anybody, but rather a frequent target for criticism. We saw this recently with a provincial government announcement that it was ending the hog barn moratorium that the previous provincial government enacted between 2007 and 2011, and will now allow farmers to construct or expand barns as long as they meet all the stringent environmental, construction and zoning requirements already in place. (For instance, hog barns can only operate if they are able to spread their manure on enough land to allow all of the phosphorus to be absorbed by crops, and manure can only be spread in a way that prevents runoff. If they don’t have enough spreading land, existing barns have to reduce production, and new barns won’t be approved.)

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Rather than celebrate hopes that the end of the moratorium would allow the industry, one of the driving forces of the provincial economy, to expand again and strengthen the provincial economy, few positive public comments were made. The usual claims were made by some usual suspects, arguing that the hog industry pollutes Manitoba’s environment, even though there is virtually no evidence for this, with tough manure regulations preventing over-application of manure to fields and with most phosphorus going into rivers from cities, towns and commercial fertilizer used on crop farms. It’s just a claim that is made, usually without anything to back it up.

The only body offering a “Whew!” of relief was Manitoba Pork Council, which is the official industry organization for hog farmers. But most of their comments were defences against the accusations of critics, leaving most media accounts with an overhanging negative tone. It was really just more of the same for a huge sector of the provincial economy that never seems to get any respect.

This made me wonder, and this is the point of this post: where are the people who should be standing up for this huge part of our economy? Thousands of unionized employees work for the hog slaughter industry. Why do I never hear from the unions? The industry is a driving force – often the primary one – in a score of communities. Why do I hear little from mayors and chambers of commerce? Why is it only the hog farmers and their organization that is left to speak for what they do? They seem like a vested interest, so their voice alone is never going to be able to push back against the critics in a way that is convincing for the average citizen.

I’m making some calls about these questions this week, because it’s a mystery to me. Thousands and thousands of people rely upon the hog industry for jobs, economic sustainability and taxes, but nobody seems to be standing up and giving their two-cents about its value. Without that voice, the only voices being heard are often those of critics, and farmers trying to defend themselves.

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About the author

Ed White — Ed White has specialized in markets coverage since 2001 and has achieved the Derivatives Market Specialist (DMS) designation with the Canadian Securities Institute.

Also by this author

  • John Fefchak

    Tories aim to loosen manure regulations

    Picture shows- 2007-Distribution of Hog Operations in Manitoba. (Manitoba Clean Environment Commission Report)
    Unfortunately, the masses are sleeping – if they don’t wake up soon it will be fait accompli by the province. I don’t think most folks have grasped the scale of what the industry and government have in mind. If they get their way Manitoba will be a worse environmental mess than North Carolina.

    Province rejects Water Concerns
    Plans underway to further saturate
    Rural Manitobans with Hog Barn-Blitz

    https://2.bp.blogspot.com/-5Pk8Q-_cWiA/VsaEZi4Gl2I/AAAAAAAAL3g/Ea3SumMPgvM/s1600/HOG%2BMAP.png

  • Denise

    In order to gain respect you have to give respect. Many people can tell you their own stories about how the factory hog invasion, into rural communities,has damaged their quality of life.
    Here’s a few examples of the lack of respect displayed by the hog industry for people and OUR environment.
    Many neighbours have to endure disgusting fumes released from the barns (anytime!) night and day. The worst and most angering venting can occur in the middle of a beautiful summer night! when you have the windows open and are wakened to the stink of factory hog odours coming directly into your bedroom. Imagine if you have small children?
    Try having a social occasion,outdoors. You never know when the invasion of stink will happen.You can live tenS of miles away and still be affected by the venting. Some hog supporters will say,”Well, if you live in a farming community ,you have to expect to smell farm odours.” Many of us grew up on farms and know what real manure smells like. This is not manure. This is a brew of toxins polluting the air. land, and water.
    Many of us worry about our wells and the aquifers being polluted by hog slurry run- off and leaks of slurry travelling underground from the massive “earthen” hog slurry pits. I think they (hog industry or government) should pay for our well tests every year.
    Anaerobic treatment of the slurry could help eliminate odour and disease- spreading pathogens but these guys want government handouts rather than invest in cooperative anaerobic digesters,themselves. We get no respect because they have to make the most profits in the cheapest way possible..
    They use so much water and create so much waste but don’t feel they have to be responsible for “proper” disposal of it. Remember this is industrial production of animals not farming. But they get special treatment by the government.
    Fire regulations are lax. Look how many pigs have perished in barn fires. This is so tragic and happens far too often. Where’s the respect for the animals?
    Since the hog factory hog business came to Manitoba, the residents of this province have been treated like second class citizens.
    If they had respected us in the first place by addressing our concerns then things could have been a lot different.
    Of course, everybody is entitled and needs to make a decent living but not at the expense of other people’s well- being.

    .

    • old grouchy

      Well – – – when you are half as vehement re: the gargantuan increase of humans and their as vile wastes in this province as you are about these ‘factory hog’ facilities I might respect your viewpoint. As it is you have one whipping boy and no real understanding of what you do NOT know. Where are your touted ‘concerns’ when it comes to the huge numbers of acreages being developed. Oh – – – I forgot – – – – human crap don’t (sic) stink. I could continue but you regard your ‘right’ to oppose ‘factory hogs’ as inviolate where I see it as a privilege. I do hope that your provide all your own food from your own property (do note the ‘all’.)

  • John Fefchak

    Suddenly, according to the author, Lake Winnipeg is no longer the most polluted Lake in the world. Suddenly Professors David Schindler, Eva Pip, Peter Leavitt, John Vallentyne and several others who have previously determined that phosphorus, and a majority from hog faeces, are proven wrong. Suddenly, phosphorus is no longer a threat to our water sources. Suddenly the 2007 Clean Environment Commission, and the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Reports are worthless, because they are also wrong.
    That would all be great news IF it was True.! , But it’s NOT.
    The assertions that the hog Industry is being made a scapegoat remind me of a 1992 move, “A Few Good Men”, where Col. Jessup says …They Can’t Handle the Truth, they don’t want to know the truth.
    Putting lipstick on the factory hog industry situation for economic benefits and also slamming the people, only indicates that his research was lacking.
    Initially, the Filmon government unfurled the red carpet and opened Pandora’s Box for the hog Industry to come to Manitoba. Some 22 years or so later, the Pallister government has taken the cue to further expand the Industry, and taken away many of the features that had been put in place to protect our environment, Lake Winnipeg and water sources. Yes, it is very clear that Mr. Pallister has been busy reading the Filmon playbook on how to run the Manitoba government. In fact, his actions are similar of what President Trump’s administration has been busy at and discarding in the U.S.
    Sadly,water, is not an important consideration to this Conservative government!

    • Harold

      It seems that every article written and spoken in the news has the sole purpose and intent of creating a division amongst society to favor corporate and corporate globalists. The question is who will stand up for the citizens of Manitoba as the whole. When we accept the insane idea of feeding the entire globe with pork, it has to come from somewhere and your small land mass map shows you where. We are feeding the world with indulgences at the cost of our environment and the environment (nature) was not set up for greed without us paying a cost. All that is written identify the costs and that is why “Suddenly, phosphorus is no longer a threat to our water sources”. It is a cost.
      Regarding Trump, he also said that he will not do what the citizens of America do not want him to do. He is in the process of removing power from Washington DC and giving back to the people where it belongs. If he were in Canada, he would be removing power from Ottawa and giving it back to Canadians. Also by Trump’s executive order, with every new law created, two existing laws have to be removed. When the people hold the power, then the government agencies need to be cleaned out which is exactly what he has been doing and so ordered. He is hated because the agencies have up until now been overrun by corporate greed. If We in Canada were to consider ourselves to be more than government and corporate pee-ons, then perhaps we just might be able to see what Trump is trying to do. Trump is only somebody because Americans after listening to him in the majority said so.
      Trump does not deserve Canadian criticism; Trudeau deserves Canadian criticism. In comparison, what is a Trudeau? If he bothered to show up at question periods perhaps we can confirm what some of us already know.
      How were Canadians lives moved forward in Trudeau’s first 50 days in office?
      Trudeau enjoys a huge media black-out while Trump by his own hand and doing does not. Further, to criticize anything, somebody has to have done or be in the course of doing something good or bad. Canadian Media black-out?
      Don’t get me wrong, I am not supporting Trump; I am criticizing Canadian
      inaction. Canadians as a whole have no desire to create and groom their own politicians but they instead stand ready to receive permissions, orders, and handouts. Everyone who votes has in fact elected themselves and has sent one representative forward by name into government. This is the difference between a voter and a non-voter. When a politician lies he is not the representative of the elected and the elected protest. This is where pee-ons excuse themselves and walk away.

    • old grouchy

      Hmmmmmmm – – – … maybe you might want to read something besides these papers you have listed. IMO they are quite flawed at best. As for Lake Winnipeg being the ‘. . . most polluted Lake in all the world.’ – – – you really do need to read something that has a wider readership than a Winnipeg based rag (Regina isn’t much different). I think with a detailed atlas I could point to quite a number of lakes that would like to be as polluted as Lake Winnipeg today and also to some who were far more polluted but are no longer …

      • John Fefchak

        You might want to consider opening the link and reading the state of Lake Winnipeg….and it’s not from the Winnipeg based rag as you suggest !
        http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/lake-winnipeg-named-world-s-most-threatened-lake-in-2013-1.1143414

        • Denise

          Unfortunately,the general public do not appear to care what happens to Lake Winnipeg. Nobody wants to rock the boat.What a great loss for Manitoba.

          • Harold

            Is the Media telling anyone or is accurate weather, sports and reality TV, still more important? How about those “House Wives of Toronto”? How are they doing today? Surely the media believes that they are important. Be that as it may, It’s the “trusted” and “authoritative” and “up to date” and “the people who want to be informed” rhetoric media that do not want to “rock the boat”. Isn’t it corporations paying all the air time and is it corporations who are making the mess? The Manitoba government is a Crown corporation as well. Which boat do we rock when no one knows where the boat is or what it looks like?

  • Denise

    The Manitoba government plans to allow the construction of a 100 or so new hog barns and professional engineers are going to oversee the construction of new lagoons in the next few years.
    In order to make a proper comment at : Publicregistry@gov.mb.ca
    the pubic needs more information. Let us see the design model of the new lagoons and how they will protect Manitobans from noxious odours and toxic air pollutants.
    Has anything like this been considered that would have a positive outcome for all?
    http://www.prnewswise.com/news-releases/construction-undertaking-on-innovative-project-creating-energy-from-hog-manure-270763751.html