Moratorium: Manitoba Hog Farmers Brace for the Worst

CANADA - Farm-Scape: Episode 2253. Farm-Scape is a Wonderworks Canada production and is distributed courtesy of Manitoba Pork Council and Sask Pork.
calendar icon 2 December 2006
clock icon 9 minute read

Farm-Scape, Episode 2253

Manitoba's agriculture and business communities fear a provincial government imposed moratorium on further expansion of province's hog industry will chase away investment and cost jobs.

Amended Legislation Provides for Pause in Development

An amendment to the Manure and Mortalities Management Regulation under the Environment Act provides for what is described as temporary suspension of the development of new and expanding hog barns in Manitoba. The public comment period on the amendment ended last Friday (November 24).

The suspension is to remain in effect while the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission reviews the environmental sustainability of the hog industry and reviews new environmental legislation.

Ban Not Yet Officially Approved

As of Thursday (November 23) the amended regulation pertaining to the “pause” or ban on new developments has not been approved by cabinet through order in council.

None the less, “The pause will proceed,” states Manitoba Conservation Minister Stan Struthers.

We believe it's based on common sense that, as we have the clean environment commission reviewing the impact of a very fast growing hog industry, that we not complicate matters by bringing on more applications to be considered through our process.

Struthers notes comments were pretty balanced, some for, some against, some advice that will be incorporated on a go forward basis but essentially we will be moving forward with the pause.

Manitoba Pork Council Chair Karl Kynoch labels the decision as both unfair and unwarranted.

“Only about one percent of the phosphorus entering Lake Winnipeg can be attributed to hog farms, the remaining 99 percent come from other industries, human sewage, the U.S. and other sources,” he says.

Better, Faster, Easier Solutions Immediately Available

Manitoba Liberal leader Dr. Jon Gerrard agrees. “This, in my view, is just a wrong way to proceed”

He suggests there are measures which would be immediately more effective in reducing prosperous levels in Lake Winnipeg than targeting the hog industry.

“First of all we should ban the phosphorus in dishwasher detergent.”

This measure alone, Dr. Gerrard explains, would reduce phosphorus going into Lake Winnipeg by two percent. It's a substantial contributor and one of the easiest things that we can implement quickly. Contrast that to the whole hog industry which, by itself, may only produce one percent of the phosphorus going into Lake Winnipeg. Secondly the city of Winnipeg adds 60 to 70 tonnes a year of phosphorus to prevent the leaching of lead from the pipes. There are better alternatives which should be used and which don't cause problems with algae in Lake Winnipeg.

Huge Potential Economic Fallout Expected

“The pork business is well over a billion dollars and I think it's close to 13,000 employees,” observes Manitoba Chambers of Commerce President Graham Starmer.

The Chamber of Commerce is very concerned about the sustainability of communities. That's one of it's major issues.

Starmer explains, prorated over the last couple of years, there's been in excess of 20 million dollars a year in growth in the business. We anticipate that, with any pause, there's the potential loss of that amount of investment. He admits that’s a guestimate because we don't know how long the pause is going to continue so we are unable to clearly identify the cost impact.

Perry Mohr, the CEO of Manitoba Pork Marketing, the province's producer owned marketing cooperative, concurs.

“Anybody that's looking at investing in the industry is going to look at the political atmosphere, the acceptance or the lack there of. Right now I would suggest that anybody that's looking at investing in the industry is going to look elsewhere. Certainly it's not a friendly environment.”

Pause Threatens Value Added Processing

On top of the anticipated loss in production investment, there is fear that the pause will influence decisions related to slaughter and processing capacity in Manitoba.

As Starmer notes, Maple Leaf is consolidating some of its businesses into Brandon and is looking at going to a second shift. They're looking at production and how they're going to supply the second shift. The Olywest plant is looking at that too. What you have is a shadow of doubt flash across their radar screen and they're going to be very cautious.

On receiving word of the proposed pause, the CEO of Olywest partner Big Sky Farms, likened the project to the Torre Pendente di Pisa.

“I've got to tell you that if the Olywest project was the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it's leaning a lot more today than it was last week before Manitoba announced the moratorium,” stated Florian Possberg when questioned during a Saskatchewan Pork Industry Symposium producer panel last month (November 15).

“That could be,” says Struthers, “but my job, first and foremost as minister of the environment in Manitoba, is to make sure that I have in place a framework that protects our environment. In specific our lakes and our rivers and our streams. That, for me, has to be my number one priority.”

Grain Producers Also at Risk

Larry Maguire, deputy leader of the PC Party of Manitoba, concedes anything to do with the construction of these kinds of facilities should be done through the technical review committee and through the land use planning process which, he stresses, is already mandated. He fears singling out one industry and closing part of it down sends a tough signal to people to not invest in livestock in Manitoba.

Maguire believes, “We need to make sure there are markets for our livestock producers, particularly on the hog side.”

He echoes the fear that, if we were ever to see the U.S. border closed as happened to the cattle with BSE, it would put 50 percent of the hog industry in jeopardy in Manitoba. We have to keep in mind that also affects grain producers. With three million piglets going out of the province every year to the U.S., that's equivalent of about three quarter of a million tonnes of barley that it could take to feed out those piglets here in Manitoba. We should be not exporting raw grain out of this province but instead should be processing it all and adding more value every time we get a chance to.

Environmental Impact Assessment Needed

Struthers stresses, “No other sector has grown at the rate the hog industry has.”

He believes we need to understand the impact of the hog industry on our environment, in particular our lakes and our rivers, our streams. We need to know exactly what kind of an impact that will have. To be credible on this we can't be taking a thorough look through the Clean Environment Commission at the impact while continuing to accept applications to build more capacity.

Manitoba Pork Council fully expects the Clean Environment Commission review to prove the hog industry in Manitoba is responsible and environmentally sustainable.

However Kynoch notes the agency is especially concerned with the fact that the CEC has been given no deadlines. He explains Quebec implemented a pause in 2002 and it has become a permanent moratorium.

“I did not want to impose an arbitrary deadline, an artificial time frame on the CEC,” says Struthers.

I think that would take away from their ability to be thorough so we haven't put a deadline in place. The history of the CEC is they don't waste time, they get busy, they do a good job and they bring a level of credibility to this that can only come through this type of body so I'm very much confident the CEC will bring forward solid recommendations and will help us to make some decisions on a go forward basis.

Alternatives to Moratorium More Desirable

Dr. Gerrard shares the fear that a freeze will undermine investment in the industry.

“One thing that's really important when you're dealing with any industry, but particularly in the agricultural industry, you don't want to create uncertainty.”

We think that there are better alternatives to a hog moratorium, he says.

For example in the Rural Municipality of Morris they've been requiring the injection of hog manure into the ground and they've been moving away dramatically from spreading in the winter. If we moved away from spreading in the winter and we injected the hog manure all over Manitoba this would be a better measure than a moratorium on new hog barn construction.

Maguire continues Manitoba has set up some of the toughest regulations in North America but what the minister is saying is you can't build any new barns. It's the new barns that are state of the art. They are the ones with the best ability to meet the regulations that are placed before them today. What the government is saying is you can leave the old barns in place that are the ones that might have the greater environmental impact.

Producers to Press for End to Moratorium and Deadline for CEC Review

As for next steps, Manitoba Pork Council general manager Andrew Dickson says educational programs will be stepped up to inform the general public of the sustainability of the industry.

He says producers will also continue to lobby the province to repeal the moratorium.

At the same, he says, the agency will be pursuing the industry's case with the Clean Environment Commission and calling on government to set a deadline of May 1, 2007 for the CEC to complete the hearing process and present its report.

Dickson believes that should allow lots of public input over the winter and he is confident producers will show everybody the industry is caring of the environment and is doing it's bit like everybody needs to.

Staff Farmscape.Ca

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