Manitoba has lost five per cent of its sow herd in the last two months as producers continue to downsize in the face of rising feed costs, a senior industry official says.
“We all understand and agree there is a problem,” said Rick Bergmann, vice-chair of the Manitoba and Canadian Pork councils. “Now we are looking at ways to mitigate the significant loss to producers.”
As a member of a recently formed federal task force designed to examine the causes of rising feed prices, Bergmann said one of the goals is to build an industry that is less susceptible to price fluctuations.
“Producers have good facilities, they’ve got great management, great production, great genetics and great feed quality, but then the price of corn goes up because of drought and producers are going out of business,” he said.
The price of feed has gone up 60 per cent since this spring, said Bergmann, adding it has resulted in 17,000 sows being prematurely shipped to market.
Only two months ago industry insiders expected the price of corn to drop to about $5 a bushel this fall, but instead it has increased to nearly $9 per bushel.
At the same time, hog futures have hit a 20-month low as producers liquidate their herds.
Pork prices in Manitoba were also 8.8 per cent lower this August than the previous year according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, with other provinces seeing prices drop by as much as 14 per cent over the same period.
And although it’s farmers who feel the pinch first, Bergmann noted the hog industry also provides many urban jobs as well.
“It supports 45,000 jobs across Canada,” he said, adding the industry is worth $9.3 billion nationwide.
Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives Minister Ron Kostyshyn has also been discussing the current situation with producers and industry representatives.
He didn’t rule out the possibility of financial assistance, but didn’t offer any specifics.
“It would definitely have to be some form of partnership with the federal and provincial governments,” said Kostyshyn.
But given the ongoing negotiation of Growing Forward 2, Kostyshyn said “it would be somewhat inappropriate” to make any further comments on the possibility.
Still recovering from a 2009 H1N1 swine flu scare, the effects of U.S. country-of-origin labelling laws and a strengthening Canadian loonie, this current downturn has left producers examining all options, said Bergmann.
Producers in Manitoba will also see the implementation of a winter manure-spreading ban this year.
Kostyshyn noted the province has provided more than $26 million to assist hog producers in improving manure management techniques, but said he hasn’t raised the possibility of delaying the ban’s implementation with the province’s minister of conservation.