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.”

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.

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.

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

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