NAFTA fears may be slowing hog barn growth: Man. ag minister

Despite clearing away a moratorium on hog barns and making it easier to invest in Manitoba businesses, few hog barn applications have come before the provincial government.

Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler thinks United States President Donald Trump’s frequent but confusing attacks on the North American Free Trade Agreement might have something to do with it.

“I would say that’s part of it. There’s uncertainty,” Eichler told reporters at Manitoba Ag Days, after presenting his state of the industry address.

Eichler has championed livestock and other protein production as key to the province’s farming, food and agriculture development.

However, while provincial officials are working with three hog barn proposals and a few others might be in the works in rural municipalities, it’s a far cry from the 40 or so projects needed to produce the 1,500 slaughter hogs per day required to keep Manitoba’s plants running at high capacity.

As well, while the beef herd has grown, the 38,000 extra animals in the province this year compared to last are a long way from filling the gap left by years of cow-herd shrinkage.

“It’s a significant increase. It’s not where I’d like it to be,” said Eichler.

Great news for his protein strategy came from French company Roquette’s $400 million investment in a pea-processing plant in Portage La Prairie, Man.

Other food processing also grew during the year, with HyLife expanding its pork processing capacity and Parmalat opening a new milk plant.

In other provincial news, Manitoba crop insurance coverage was improved and extended for soybeans, hard red wheat and new crops.

Corn and soybeans will no longer face the 15 percent pre-harvest claim deductible, and the insurable area for soybean coverage has been expanded by 200,000 acres.

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