No solutions in sight as feds, pork industry talk

Assistance to help hog farmers survive the current bout of high feed costs and low prices has yet to materialize, says Martin Rice, executive director of the Canadian Pork Council.

Driven by soaring feed costs from this summer’s drought and high profile bankruptcies, the council has been holding discussions with Agriculture Canada on what kind of assistance might be possible under the existing Growing Forward program, Rice says.

He’d hoped for resolution by the end of September, but that hasn’t happened.

At the meeting of federal and provincial agriculture ministers in Whitehorse, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said the goal of the task force working with Pork Council was to find ways to stop the bleeding in the pork sector.

However, the minister has publicly said there is no financial assistance forthcoming. Rice says there is concern among governments that any help for the sector could spark trade disputes.

Ritz says farmers who can survive the current crisis, with losses running at $30 to $50 a pig, will have a bright future in a year’s time, according to market forecasts.

The situation has reached the social media site Facebook where posts have warned of impending bacon shortages without any real explanation of the problems in the pork sector.

“We have to find ways for farmers to maintain their herds until the market goes back. Eventually there will be substantial corrective action in hog supply.”

There could be collateral damage in the meat processing sector as well, Rice adds.

Having recovered from the swine flu and circovirus crisis of a few years ago and having learned to cope with the high value of the loonie, pork farmers were blindsided by this summer’s drought which has sent feed prices soaring. Farmers are selling off breeding and young animals to reduce their losses.

About 60 per cent of farms reporting pigs are dependent on purchased feed, which makes them vulnerable in a period of high input costs, Rice says.

In a report issued almost a year ago, the Pork Council said it appeared that through government support and downsizing, “the hog industry has moved from the worst economic circumstances of the last 60 years and is in the early stages of a slow recovery. While there has been a huge reduction (42 per cent) in hog farms during the past five years, along with a major (20 per cent) decline in the national herd size, there remain a substantial number of operators (7,000) who are confronting the risks, costs and operational challenges with amazing equanimity.”

At that time, energy costs, rising imports, pork consumption and U.S. country of origin labelling had exacted a hefty toll on the industry that exports along didn’t compensate for.

While higher pig prices were helping producers reduce debt loads and recapitalize their businesses, the report warned that another catastrophic event would be brutal because there is virtually no support available.

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