Pork industry bracing for water shortages

CANADA - Canada's hog producers are going to have to serve up less water with their pork.
calendar icon 23 February 2007
clock icon 4 minute read
Many producers employ new technologies and practices that reduce odours and minimize the impact of manure.

Once a commodity that was taken for granted, water is now just too valuable to waste, industry members are being told.

In fact, pork producers are being warned that it will be the next at-risk resource as climate change wreaks further havoc with an industry that has seen more downs than ups of late.

Although the country's pork sector, consisting of 13,000 hog producers who produced 31 million head in 2005, has tapped a healthy export market, it has been hobbled by a higher dollar and soaring prices for corn - a primary feed staple in many regions.

"The pork industry has been financially challenged since 1998," says Cedric MacLeod, environmental programs co-ordinator for the Canadian Pork Council (CPC).

Pork prices have crashed or dipped more than once in the last decade. Add a higher Canadian dollar for the sector's surging export market and higher corn prices - the North American pork market is based on corn being at $2 a bushel rather than the current $4 - and most producers are facing tough times.

However, a strong export sector still accounts for more than 50 per cent of Canadian hog production. Canadian exports were worth $2.8 billion in 2005 and now reach more than 100 countries, up from 50 in 1990. These exports, meanwhile, are responsible for economic activity amounting to $7.7 billion and 42,000 jobs.

While MacLeod says pork producers have already taken up a call to action on the environment, he does have some concerns when it comes to climate change and the future of this industry.

"I would suggest that nobody's adapting regarding climate change," he says.

MacLeod points to the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, which states the overall costs and risks of climate change could be equivalent to losing at least five per cent of global GDP each year. "So our lack of expenditures to reduce our emissions is going to come back to (haunt) us ... if its predictions are correct."

He is, however, not totally pessimistic. Pork producers are invariably reducing their greenhouse gases by trying to be better environmental stewards, says MacLeod.

The Canadian pork industry tends to be one of the more aggressive livestock industries when it comes to the environment," he adds. "Producers are keenly aware of management practices and technologies that reduce odours, improve manure nutrient management and minimize the impact of manure use in the environment."

He also does agree that a water warning issued earlier this year at the 2007 Banff Pork Seminar - an annual event that brings together national and international speakers and delegates from around the world - needs to be heeded.

David Sauchyn, an environmental researcher from the University of Regina, told attendees at the Banff event that water management and conservation will be the key for the industry to adapt to climate change.

The greatest risk climate change presents is a reduction in the amount, quality and distribution of water supplies, Sauchyn notes.

Source: Business Edge

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