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Pork industry must change

The once-booming pork industry hits the wall and their chickens have come home to roost, according to the Manitoba Co-operator July 2, 2009.

Reading the column by Ron Friesen reminds me of the “Gambler” song. “You gotta’ know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away and know when to run.” But isn’t everything in life like that?

The hog expansion in Manitoba led by corporate investors and supported by the government(s) had no foundation, no plan and no foresight. Its only self-commitment and strategy was to keep growing and as such became nothing more than a house of cards.

So, what to do next? Well, as Laura Rance writes in Part 2 of What Now? (Manitoba Co-operator July 2), a far better approach would be to take a hard look at what the industry must do to win over, not only consumers but rural neighbours and Canadian taxpayers as well. They have had significant financial support from the public sector and advance payments alone over the past three years have averaged more than $100,000 per producer.

I recall my dad telling of shipping a carload of cattle in the 1930s, as there was not enough feed to overwinter them. He received a bill (no payment) from the railroad for $28 owing for freight charges. There was no money. There was no bailout. There was no one to plead to or yell at to “write the bloody cheques.” We, and many like us were on our own. But we survived.

Will the hog industry simply pick up the same deck and just redeal? If that is their transition action plan, the game must be played a lot differently to succeed. Many more players and much smaller hands would be a start.

There is a good future for hog producers in Manitoba, but changes will be necessary. There must be an attitude change. There must be adherence to environment considerations and a recognition to the realities of economics. There must be an acceptance of responsibility. And most important, changes to the factory style of raising hogs are foremost.

And just a reminder: Unless you’re playing poker, bigger is not necessarily better. John Fefchak Virden, Man.

One of my biggest disappointments in this whole sad story is the stand taken by the Manitoba Cattle Producers Association. All this phony talk of “freedom of choice” in the checkoff issue: we run a cow-calf operation plus a small feedlot and I now have the freedom to sell my finished animals at a substantial loss, partially due to the high costs of shipping slaughter cattle to Alberta, Ontario or the U. S., then shipping the product back to Manitoba. All this makes so much sense.

The MCPA comes out with statements periodically like “Hang in there, boys, next year will be better,” or “It sure is a great lifestyle, this cattle business.” The younger generation in the cattle industry will not buy this much longer. We will see a massive exodus from this business.

Just how dedicated some of the opposition is to any change in the status of the present system is shown in the fact that a broker and cattle dealer I do business with periodically sends me a fully filled-out request to get my government levy returned; all it needs is my signature. (They must have my best interests at heart. Really.) I have never asked for this and fully support the levy, in hope that we will have another chance to help ourselves.

I would also like to commend our minister of agriculture, Hon. Rosann Wowchuk, for the way she presented herself and her government’s policy at the Brandon meeting to discuss this issue before a very hostile crowd. It is a shame when people in government are vilified by the very people they are trying to help.

Henry Martens Cartwright, Man.

Please forward letters to Manitoba Co-operator, 1666 Dublin Ave., Winnipeg, R3H 0H1 or Fax: 204-954-1422 or e-mail: [email protected](subject: To the editor)

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