Hog sector in crisis: federal aid requested as farms start euthanizing pigs

Canada’s hog producers are asking the federal government for an immediate direct cash payment of $20 per hog to address a cash flow crisis that has already forced some to euthanize market ready pigs.

Canadian Pork Council chair Rick Bergmann said in a news conference today that producers are losing $30 to $50 per pig now, depending on region and type of operation. Industry wide, producers stand to lose $675 million.

“We’re really out of options and now’s the time when there’s extremely hard decisions that have been made … decisions like aborting sows, resorting to welfare slaughter,” said Bergmann.

The CPC acknowledged that the federal government has attempted to provide support to Canadian businesses “but the support is wholly inadequate” to address producer issues.

The problem, like so many in the last two months, can be laid at the feet of COVID-19. Packing plant workers ill or fearing the illness are reducing available labour at plants in Canada and the United States, slowing packer acceptance of pigs and backing up supplies throughout the production chain.

Bergmann said isoweans, the young piglets sold to U.S. growth and finishing operations, are now worth almost nothing on the market. American finishers can’t send their own pigs to slaughter due to processing plant closures, so they cannot buy isoweans from Canada due to lack of space.

As well, added CPC vice-chair Rene Roy, piglets are harder to sell in Canada because of market uncertainty.

“As producers we cannot wait three months and keep them on our farm. They are growing. Buildings are not designed for this.”

Though pork industry officials have pressed the federal government for assistance, there has been no indication of forthcoming funds, he said.

“Unfortunately the government’s response to date has left farmers questioning how committed it is to protecting Canada’s food supply.”

Action is needed to protect both hog farmers and consumers’ future access to pork, Bergmann added.

“I’m optimistic that we’re going to have some result, but right now we really need to hear a strong signal from our federal government that they support all the hard work that pork producers are doing across the country, so we are waiting for that strong signal.”

Bergmann said some market weight hogs in Eastern Canada were euthanized because there were no processors able to accept them. The Olymel plant in

Yamachiche, Que., shut down March 29 when workers tested positive for COVID-19. It resumed operations April 14 and is adapting its production capacity to the number of employees available. That means a reduced slaughter capacity.

As of April 17, that plant’s temporary closure created a backlog of 92,000 hogs, said Roy. He said it would take weeks and possibly months to clear that backlog. Producers in other provinces also face backlogs due to reduced processing speeds and capacity at plants, he added.

Bergmann said the problem is not an oversupply of pigs in Canada when things are operating normally — without the complications of COVID-19.

“The world is seeking pork from Canada,” he said, but processing and export challenges have wreaked havoc. He likened the current state of the Canadian pork industry to a burning house.

“We need a fire crew to show up and put a lot of water on that…. Every day is making a big difference.”

Contact barb.glen@producer.com

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