Manitoba barn building expected to gain momentum

The Manitoba hog industry hopes to see 100 more barns built in the next five years.

It’s proof that farmers believe the long-lasting and long-loathed Manitoba hog barn moratorium has truly ended.

“We expect to have a few barns constructed this year,” Manitoba Pork Council chair George Matheson told the organization’s recent annual meeting.

“For us, really there has been no construction for probably eight years now, so this is very good news.”

Mike Teillet, the pork council’s manager of sustainable development, said two completed applications have already come in, and he received three more serious calls a day earlier.

There should soon be a stream of applications, he added.

“We are projecting probably 100 barns … over the next five years, or more.”

That number pales in comparison to the hundreds being built this year in the U.S. Midwest as American farmers react to profitable prices, increased packer demand and the construction of new packing plants. However, it’s a significant change from the stagnation of recent years.

The mid-2000s brought market and government nightmares for the Manitoba hog industry. A surging Canadian dollar and low prices drove farmers deep into losses, while the provincial government targeted the hog industry with first a limited moratorium on hog barn construction and then a province-wide ban.

Manitoba hog production peaked at more than nine million per year in the mid-2000s but fell back to 7.5 million by 2014.

Maple Leaf’s slaughter plant in Brandon cut back production because of a shortage of hogs, and the provincial government eventually opened a narrow window to allow a handful of hog barns to be built in the Brandon area.

The current construction applications are being made under that special pilot project, but the industry hopes the moratorium will gradually be eased, especially if the NDP government is replaced by the Progressive Conservatives April 19. The PCs have not promised to lift the moratorium but are assumed to be friendlier to the hog industry than the NDP.

The biggest growth in hog barn construction is likely in the U.S. Midwest, but Manitoba should be a major beneficiary because it provides the Americans with weanlings.

“Canadian weanlings look good,” Matheson said. “Demand is growing as COOL (country-of-origin labelling) gets itself sorted out.”

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