If the turnout at this year’s Manitoba Hog Days is any indication, the beleaguered sector is regaining its optimism.
Scott Peters, a director for the Manitoba Pork Council, said that the improved fundamentals of hog production — cheaper feed grains coupled with stronger prices for finished pigs — are putting the shine back on the business.
“We’re still finishing off pigs that we put $7 corn into, but the future certainly looks bright,” said Peters.
Despite the province’s moratorium on hog barn expansion, the looming expiration of the federal sow herd reduction program that paid producers to shutter their barns for three years means that some mothballed operations may be restarted.
“I would imagine that there would be some refilling,” said Peters, who added that the moratorium on expansion likely won’t apply to barns that have stood empty for years.
Hog marketing these days is based on multi-year, forward contracts with packing plants, which has added stability to an industry that has traditionally been prone to extreme volatility due to the prolific nature of sows and wild swings in feed grains prices.
Also, the looming threat of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED) virus, which according to the latest reports has come as far north as South Dakota, may be one factor tempering the pace of sow herd expansion, he added.
“If a guy was right on the tipping point, that might hold them back,” said Peters, who along with most of the industry hopes that the Canada-U.S. border might keep it out of the country.
Hog Days organizer Rhonda Coupland estimated attendance at the free event was up around 25 per cent over last year. She credited renewed optimism in the pork sector for bringing in up to 500 visitors this year, along with a switch from a two-day event to just one day.
“It’s the best turnout we’ve ever had,” said Coupland.
Wayne Kelly, a research associate at Brandon University’s Rural Development Institute, gave a presentation on how Internet-based social media can be used to influence public perception.
With people aged 18-34 spending more time watching YouTube videos than cable TV, and 23 per cent of Facebook users checking their status up to five times per day, the tidal wave of new information sources presents both a challenge and an opportunity for the livestock industry.
The numbers are staggering, he said.
Six billion hours of video is added to YouTube every month, and 8,000 new photos are posted on Instagram every second, which means that Internet-based media is rapidly becoming the “go to” place for information.
On Pinterest, a recipe-swapping site used mainly by women, a key word search for “Manitoba Pork” brought up not just the pork council’s latest promotional video and hundreds of recipes, but also a clip of hidden camera footage shot by an undercover animal rights activist working for Mercy For Animals.
“That’s the problem. Anybody can set up an account on any social media site and say whatever they want. They can absolutely dictate the content about a product, a place, person, or issue,” said Kelly.
Peters recognized that bad publicity for the pork industry is especially problematic on social media sites.
In response, the industry encourages pork producers and their supporters to do their part in countering the negative images with their side of the story.
“It seems like it’s easy to pick on the hog industry. But hopefully, positive actions and positive responses will endure,” said Peters.
The bottom line, however, is that pork is a popular meat that remains an affordable alternative for families.
“Everybody loves hotdogs, and they put bacon on everything,” he said, with a laugh.
In the annual hog carcass quality competition, an entry from Spring Valley Colony took home first prize, with Barrickman, Rolling Acres, and New Haven colonies taking honours for second, third, and fourth place, respectively.