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Capacity of the Morris hall hosting the June 22 hog rally: 1,500 Number of Manitoba farms raising pigs in 2008: 910 Number of farms raising pigs in 2001: 1,710. Number of farms raising pigs in 1971: 14,200. Number of potential hog industry investors attending the government reception launching the Manitoba Pork Advantage, November, 1996: 600

Manitoba hog production in 1980: 1.26 million

Manitoba Pork Advantage target: reaching four million pigs over four years (by 2000)

Manitoba hog production in 2007: 9.45 million Average number of pigs per farm in 1976: 155 Average number of pigs per farm in 2008: 2,995 Average volume of water consumed per hog per day: 91 litres Average volume of water consumed per person per day: 386 litres Average return on investment in hogs promoted by the Manitoba Pork Advantage: 14.44 per cent over five years

Average return on investment in hogs between 2002 and 2007: minus one per cent

Number of years recording positive net earnings in the past six years: 2

Total nitrogen excreted by all pigs in Manitoba in 2006: 29,847 tonnes Land area needed for recycling total nitrogen secreted by hogs in 2006: 426,000 hectares or nine per cent of Manitoba’s crop base. Total phosphorus applied to Manitoba fields as manure in Manitoba in 2006: 46,000 tonnes

Land required for recycling phosphorus excreted by pigs in Manitoba at crop removal rates of 15 kilograms per hectare per year: 733,000 ha or 15 per cent of land in crops.

Estimated additional cost of transporting liquid manure from the RM of De Salaberry once soil residual levels dictate applications be restricted to two times crop removal: $25,000.

Estimated cost once residual levels limit applications to one times crop removal: $128,000.

This paper had gone to press before we knew the attendance at this week’s rally in Morris. But we do know that if every hog producer in the province showed up, there’d still be room to spare in the meeting hall.

People who attended were undoubtedly reminded how important the pork industry is to the Manitoba economy: $2 billion in economic activity and more than 13,000 jobs. (In 1971, it provided 14,200 jobs at the primary producer level alone.) At any rate, events of the past year would suggest this economic wagon has lost its wheels. Another cash infusion from government won’t fix it.

This industry has gone from being a “mortgage buster” to being flat busted inside of three decades. How did this happen?

Exchange rate fluctuations, the imposition of COOL legislation in the U. S., Manitoba’s environmental regulations, lost competitiveness and a “swine flu” outbreak are not the problems. These are symptoms of much larger issues the industry must confront.

Let’s start with the assumption that got all this started – that elimination of the Crow rate would give hog producers a cost advantage by giving them access to cheap feed. No one seemed to understand that grain farmers weren’t going to grow cheap grain as a favour to their hog-producing neighbours.

The new production system severed the traditional link between the grain and livestock producer, and totally changed the economic model.

It was called diversification; it was really specialization. These dedicated hog operations depend on external financing. They consume large amounts of water and energy. They were based on the assumption, later disproven, that phosphorus from liquid hog manure wouldn’t move into waterways.

Existing operations now don’t have enough spread land for crops to take up all the phosphorus, and they can’t afford to haul liquid manure to areas where it could be used sustainably.

We don’t know whether composted manure or straw-based systems are better because very little has been invested to determine whether they are a viable Plan B for producers who can no longer afford the present system.

The Canadian dollar wasn’t going to stay low forever. COOL has been on U. S. law books since 2002. Rather than come up with an adaptation strategy, the industry response was to send delegations to Washington to tell U. S. politicians they were wrong. Wrong or not, it was probably going to happen; the industry refused to face the issue.

If you raised any of these concerns, you were labelled “anti-hog” and therefore anti-progress.

A year ago the Manitoba Pork Council was spending producers’ money on billboards complaining about restrictions on the explosive expansion documented above. Today it wants government money to cull sows and bail out producers. This does not suggest an industry that has a clear vision of its future.

The hog industry is important. It still has a future, but it must be built on a foundation that adheres to economic and environmental realities – not bullish outlooks and wishful thinking. [email protected]

About the author

Vice-President of Content

Laura Rance

Laura Rance is vice-president of content for Glacier FarmMedia. She can be reached at [email protected]

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