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Maple Leaf searching for hog suppliers

Fears of a worldwide bacon shortage are overblown, but local processors are searching for new hog suppliers even as some producers cut their losses and depopulate their barns.

“Unfortunately, there will be some producers who do exit this industry,” said Jason Manness, director of procurement for Maple Leaf Foods. “As a result, we are currently looking for new producers who want to supply hogs to Brandon for the long term.”

Severe drought in the U.S. this summer sent the price of corn, and other feed grains, soaring and that resulted in a glut of pigs being put on the market. That prompted many producers, who have been hammered in recent years by country-of-origin labelling and the 2009 swine flu scare, to call it quits. Manitoba has lost nearly 30,000 sows since January, according to the Manitoba Pork Council. It also pushed Saskatchewan-based Big Sky Farms into receivership, and forced Manitoba’s Puratone Corporation to file for bankruptcy protection to allow for restructuring. Weanling producers who sell to American finisher operations have been hit particularly hard.

But the pendulum will swing the other way, industry experts say.

“There will be a tightening of (pork) supplies,” said Manitoba Pork Council general manager Andrew Dickson. “There might be less in storage, and definitely prices will go up.”

However, a recent prediction of an impending worldwide bacon shortage by Britain’s National Pig Association is off the mark.

“I’m not sure why they think it will be a worldwide shortage, total pork production has increased over the last 10 years,” said Dickson.

Current global pork production stands at about 105 million tonnes, up from 85 million tonnes a decade ago.

That doesn’t mean the United Kingdom, which imports two-thirds of its pork, won’t have difficulties securing supply, but Dickson said that won’t be an issue in Canada.

“In Canada, we continue to export about a million tonnes of pork worldwide,” he said.

Manness noted a new bacon plant is currently under construction at Maple Leaf’s Winnipeg facility.

“While the hog market is experiencing challenges… we have every intention of meeting bacon demand through 2013,” he said.

But consumers may feel the pinch at the grocery store till, said Dickson.

“Our expectation is that retail prices will increase,” he said. “There will be lots of bacon to buy, but at the right price.”

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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