The Manitoba Pork Council is looking for a new general manager.
Andrew Dickson, who has had the job since early 2005, is stepping down Jan. 31, 2021.
“You get to a point where you’ve got to quit sometime, so 68 (years of age) is a decent time to quit,” Dickson said in an interview July 29. “But I am considering doing something else. I want to do something else, but I don’t know what.”
Dickson has worked in Manitoba’s agricultural sector 45 years, the last 15 as pork council general manager.
Why it matters: Manitoba’s pork sector will have to get used to a new face once Andrew Dickson, Manitoba Pork Council general manager for the last decade and a half, steps down early next year.
Although Manitoba’s hog producers are going through tough times due to lower prices in the wake of COVID-19, Dickson is optimistic. Once the pandemic subsides, demand for pork will pick up, he predicts.
“It’s the meat of choice in most countries in the world that eat meat,” he said. “The markets are opening up all the time. We supply a lot of pork, but we have been able to differentiate our product in the marketplace and I think there’s all kinds of opportunity for the hog industry in Manitoba. We’ve got two good, strong processors (Maple Leaf Foods in Brandon and HyLife Foods in Neepawa). We’ve got some secondary processing. We’ve got a land base and a climate that’s good for hog production. It’s just a matter of being patient. Take a long view and I think we’ll do well.”
In the meantime, Manitoba’s hog sector has been expanding, Dickson said. Maple Leaf Foods has two shifts processing hogs and HyLife Foods has increased its pork exports, he said.
“Thirteen thousand people in this province depend on the industry,” Dickson said. “Yeah, there are tough times right now. But new barns have been going up in the last couple of years and it looks like there will be some new ones built this year and more next year. Things are moving along.”
When Dickson joined the pork council the United States had slapped a countervailing duty on Canadian pork.
“Fortunately all the work had been done by the time I had got there, so I was in the fortunate position in the first month or two of announcing that we had won the trade case,” he said.
“Then prices started slumping because the Canadian dollar went up (in value relative to the U.S. dollar). Markets got tight; grain prices went up. Everything just went sideways in terms of the economics of the industry. At the same time, the provincial government started bringing these moratoriums (on new barns) on the industry. The industry was trying to get a processing plant off the ground in Winnipeg. There was a great big fight about that. It ended up being built in Neepawa. It was just one serious issue after another.
That was followed by the U.S. introducing country-of-origin labelling (COOL), which reduced Canadian pork prices. The World Trade Organization agreed with Canada that COOL unfairly discriminated against Canadian pork, but it took eight years before the policy was scrapped.
“Then we had the big drought of 2012 and then prices dropped this year because of COVID(-19),” Dickson said. “It’s an up-and-down industry. There’s never a dull day in the hog industry I can tell you that.”
Dickson graduated with a degree in agriculture from the University of Reading, England, in 1974. That same summer and fall he worked on a dairy farm in Dauphin, Man.
Dickson worked for Manitoba Agriculture for 30 years, starting in January 1975. He was ag rep in Russell and Stonewall, chief of 4-H, director of the Interlake region and then the Eastern region after Eastern and Interlake regions were combined.
Dickson said he was able to handle the pressure by breaking challenges into smaller pieces and dealing with them one at a time.
“The good thing is we’ve got a good strong board, very committed to developing the industry,” he said. “We’ve got a great staff group and we have a fairly good idea of where we want to go and what we want to do — it’s just — how to get there?”
Asked what advice he has for his successor, Dickson replied: “You’ve got to work closely with the board.
“You’ve got to help develop that board,” he said. “You’ve got to help and motivate the staff and keep aware of the issues and be prepared to be a leader for the industry.”