Hog Industry Announces New Sustainability Commitments

Major and possibly expensive changes lie ahead for Manitoba hog producers as the result of a new road map for the industry’s future.

The Manitoba Pork Council plan released last week commits the province’s 700 pork producers to eliminating sow gestation stalls within the next 15 years.

“Manitoba Pork commits to encouraging producers to phase out by 2025 the style of dry sow stalls currently used. New forms of housing must be practical and provide protection to animals and humans alike,” states a document titledEmbracing a Sustainable Future.

It is only one of 82 commitments in a strategy aimed at making Manitoba’s hog industry more sustainable. Besides green farming practices, the plan also commits producers to new practices on animal care, odour control, food safety, and public awareness.

But the commitment to gradually get rid of sow stalls is the one with the biggest potential impact on producers.

Manitoba Pork Council chairman Karl Kynoch was vague when asked how farmers will afford the transition and how the industry will enforce it, but he insisted producers have no choice but to make the change because public opinion requires it.

“We compete in a world market. Some of these things in here that consumers are demanding, we have to find a way that we can meet these and still stay competitive in the world,” Kynoch said during a March 16 news conference held to launch the strategy.

“You make a choice at the end of the day. You have to meet a lot of this stuff or you won’t survive.”

Equipment in many Manitoba hog barns is already nearing the end of its 15-year average lifespan and producers must decide in the next few years what to do with it.

In most cases, that’ll mean either replacing rusting metal gestation stalls or switching to open-housing systems for sows.

NEW HUSBANDRY

Unfortunately, many producers are unsure which way to go and time is short, said Andrew Dickson, Manitoba Pork Council general manager.

Research in open housing underway at the University of Manitoba’s National Centre for Livestock and the Environment will help farmers select systems to use, said Karin Wittenberg, the centre’s director.

But the change won’t just involve a physical design structure, it’ll also require a whole new style of animal husbandry, Dickson said.

Sorting sows for breeding or veterinary treatment is easier when they’re in individual stalls compared to when they’re milling around in groups. Some producers have only ever worked with gestation stalls and may have a difficult time adjusting to a new system, said Dickson.

“WATERSHED MOMENT”

Bill McDonald, Winnipeg Humane Society CEO, applauded the pork council’s sow stall announcement. The WHS has actively campaigned for years against the use of gestation crates for pregnant sows.

“This is a watershed moment in our mind,” he said.

But McDonald said the society will continue its “Quit Stalling” campaign to encourage consumers to buy pork raised in stall-free operations.

McDonald called another commitment in the council’s 82-point strategy equally significant. It embraces the so-called “Five Freedoms” for food animals, which includes the freedom for animals to express their normal behaviour. That would include rooting and nesting, which pregnant sows can only do in an open-housing system, McDonald said.

Manitoba hog producers have already experienced a host of changes to their industry, including recent provincial manure management regulations governing phosphorus levels in the soil. A University of Manitoba study concluded that complying with the phosphorus regulations will cost producers an additional $20 million a year.

Another big change for hog producers is a total ban on spreading manure on fields in winter in 2013. The ban already covers large operations above 300 animal units. Now small operations will have to comply, too.

The pork council’s plan commits producers to ending winter spreading but “within a reasonable time frame,” suggesting the 2013 deadline is not achievable. [email protected]

The Manitoba Pork Council makes 82 commitments in nine areas. Some highlights:

GREEN FARMING PRACTICES

Lowering greenhouse gas emissions through improved efficiencies;

Locating barns and manure storages at least one km from lakes or rivers and at least 100 metres from creeks or wells used for drinking water;

Applying manure at least three metres from ditches and 30 metres from lakes;

Investigating liquid-solid manure separation systems.

ODOUR AND LOCATION

Locating new operations at least 1.5 km from communities and at least one km from provincial or national parks;

Planting at least 25,000 trees around pig farms over the next five years;

Researching new ways for odour control.

ANIMAL CARE

Phasing out dry sow stalls by 2025;

Meeting the Five Freedoms for animal wellbeing;

Certifying producers under the national Animal Care Assessment program.

FARM SAFETY

Supporting the provincial building code for farm buildings;

Working with trucking companies and industry officials on transport safety issues.

RESEARCH

Spending significant dollars to research best management practices in 10 areas;

Funding additional research into Lake Winnipeg water quality.

PUBLIC AWARENESS

Supporting public displays and demonstration pig farms;

Publishing print and online material about pork production and management practices;

Sponsoring public events, donating to charities and advertising.

FOOD SAFETY

Supporting livestock traceability systems;

Working with governments to develop systems for isolation and disposal of animals in case of disease emergencies;

Using antibiotics judiciously.

TRADE RELATIONS

Liaising with foreign producer groups and participating in U.S. trade shows.

SERVICES

Making Manitoba Pork a centre of excellence in the world pork industry;

Continuing to look for ways to expand hog slaughter and pork processing in the province.

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“Youhavetomeetalotofthisstufforyouwon’tsurvive.”

– KARL KYNOCH, MPC

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