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Uncertain Future For Killarney Hog Barns

“The problem is that everybody in the industry is in the same boat.”

– MARV MAGWOOD, HYTEK

Thirty farrow-to-nursery hog barn employees near Killarney could lose their jobs when Hytek gives up its lease on two barns producing 180,000 weanlings annually early next year.

“It’s a possibility we could lose our jobs. You can’t keep that out of your mind,” said Kristin Ferris, manager of ESS 2 Shiraz Barn. Ferris has worked at the barn, which raises piglets to 50-to 60-pound weights before they are moved on to finishing barns, for more than five years.

Leases on the two Killarney barns, located about 10 kilometres east of the town, expire Jan. 31, 2010. The barns were built by Dynamic Pork in the 1990s, but were taken over by Hytek five years ago as part of an agreement with Manitoba Pork Marketing Co-op.

Hytek decided not to renew the leases with owners Manitoba Pork Marketing Co-op Inc. in order to balance production and maximize efficiencies in a difficult economic climate, the company said. The company is hoping a buyer will come forward to take on the lease, the pigs, and the employees within the next two months.

“We have very good employees at the two barns,” said Marv Magwood, western Manitoba production manager for Hytek. “And the production is good – good pigs, lots of good pigs.”

Magwood said that in the event of a closure, the Killarney employees will be offered positions at other Hytek barns, although that may mean moving to a new location.

“We have already asked our employees if they are interested in relocating. We are giving them the chance of jobs elsewhere, and they can apply for them for sure. We have different farms all over Manitoba, North Dakota, and Saskatchewan.”

The nearest location is in Cando, North Dakota, a one-hour drive from Killarney. Other “nearby” jobs include barns in Neepawa, 1-1/2 hour north, and Kola, near Virden, two hours from Killarney.

If no one steps up, Hytek will start selling the sow herd by mid-November. An additional 20,000 nursery pigs would also face an uncertain future.

“The problem is that everybody in the industry is in the same boat,” said Magwood. “The atmosphere is tough for these guys, but there is cautious optimism too. The biggest emotion (in the barns) is uncertainty.”

A number of factors in the hog industry influenced Hytek’s decision, said Magwood. U. S. country-of-origin labelling legislation has resulted in deep discounts to the prices U. S. buyers are willing to pay, feed costs have risen by a third, the Canadian dollar continues to strengthen and demand for pork has been affected by the H1N1 “swine flu” connection.

“It could be another year before things start turning around. It’s really dragged on,” Magwood said.

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