Prairie Producers Adjust to New Delivery Patterns and Schedules

CANADA - Hog producers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan are adjusting to new shipping and delivery patterns as Maple Leaf Foods moves to concentrate its primary pork processing at its Brandon, Manitoba hog slaughtering plant.
calendar icon 6 August 2007
clock icon 7 minute read

At the end of May Maple Leaf closed its Mitchell’s Gourmet Foods primary pork processing plant in Saskatoon and last month the company announced that in September it will begin phasing out operations at its primary pork processing plant on Marion Street in Winnipeg.

Closures Part of Maple Leaf Restructuring

The closures are part of a previously announced restructuring plan in which Maple Leaf will centralize its primary pork processing operations in Brandon, reduces its total primary processing volumes, and focus future growth in its value-added packaged meats and meals businesses.

“Overall we are going to reduce our primary processing volumes, that’s right across the country,” states Maple Leaf Consumer Foods vice president labor relations Norm Sabapathy. “In Brandon itself we currently process about 50 thousand hogs per week today and when we double shift the plant that will increase to around 86 thousand hogs per week.”

Sabapathy explains that to coincide with ramping up to the double shift in Brandon, the Marion Street plant will wind down starting after Labour Day with final operations ceasing on October 26, 2007.

100 Percent of Hogs Diverted from Winnipeg to Be Processed at Brandon

Maple Leaf director of procurement for Western Canada Jason Manness notes that while hogs diverted from the Mitchell’s plant have been accommodated at Maple Leaf facilities in Brandon and Winnipeg and sub-contracted facilities in Neepawa, 100 percent of the hogs diverted from Winnipeg will be processed in Brandon.

“We will continue to procure hogs across all three prairie provinces as we have in the past and as we continue to today. We’re in the process of offering long term contracts in both Saskatchewan and Manitoba and expect continued success with this initiative over the next couple of months,” says Manness.

Saskatchewan Producers Adjusting to Changing Delivery Patterns

SPI Marketing Group general manager Don Hrapchak notes that despite some initial challenges, the transition from delivering hogs to Mitchell’s in Saskatoon to alternate plants in Canada and the U.S. has been reasonably smooth.

He explains, “One of the problems that we had with the Brandon situation, for example, is the fact that they are under construction. With the new barn and the new coolers being built so that the company can double shift their Brandon plant, that construction added some difficulties in unloading.”

He also notes that hogs moving into the Red Deer market were faced with plant breakdowns resulting in hogs being sold to various U.S. markets.

Need for Assembly of Hogs Creates Learning Curve

Hrapchak notes that with many of the producers who had shipped to Saskatoon not having any previous experience with assembly yards there has been a learning curve and some growing pains as they learn that timing of delivery and accuracy of numbers are of great importance when coordinating movement of hogs to meat packing plants in the United States, Red Deer or Brandon.

“When you’re assembling hogs for shipment into, let’s say far away meat packing plants, it’s extremely important that numbers of animals being booked be adhered to. The timeliness of your delivery at the assembly point is very important. We expect producers to be at the assembly yard within a 15 minute point in time so that we can have the animals loaded onto the semi trailers and off to the various markets.”

He stresses, “This is a learning process for everybody concerned, the assembly yard, the producers and the truckers. But things are progressing better each and every week.”

Manness points out with the closure of the Mitchell’s facility earlier this year Maple Leaf has had the opportunity to work out much of the delivery schedule. Delivery schedules for the Winnipeg hogs have not yet been worked out but that will happen over the next month.

Manitoba Marketing Co-op Working with Members to Accommodate Transition

Manitoba Pork Marketing, Manitoba’s producer operated hog marketing cooperative, will be working with its membership base in transitioning hogs that were going to Marion Street to Brandon and other locations.

Sales Manager Bill Alford says the co-op’s assembly yard, located just down the street from Maple Leaf’s Marion Street plant, will remain in operation beyond the closure of the processing plant to address the needs of producers.

He believes that producers with large enough volumes will likely ship directly to Brandon but expects there will be a certain amount of assembly necessary for less than full loads to make the freight efficient to Brandon.

“We’ll be working with Maple Leaf and that will be addressed in the coming months,” he says.

Assembly Yard to Remain Open Well Into 2008

Although Alford expects the transition to Brandon to move along quickly, the assembly yard will remain open at its existing location well into next year so delivery patterns won’t have to change overnight as producers transition to new delivery patterns.

“It’ll take some time with getting everybody comfortable with delivering into that facility. Some of them have never gone to Brandon before so they’ll have a transition time to get acquainted with it,” he says.

He notes, for example, producers will have to decide whether to invest in a new stock trailer if they plan to haul the hogs themselves. But given the cost of that they may prefer to have them assembled and have other truckers ship them.

“Everybody will be just assessing what exactly works for them and that’s a big part of our job here is to identify the needs and get the hogs to a timely slaughter.”

Long Term Future of Marion Assembly Yard Yet to be Decided

As for the long term future of Marion Street assembly yard, that is something that will be assessed down the road as producer needs become more apparent.

Any decision to close or relocate the assembly yard is something that will require input from the cooperative’s membership and the issue is expected to be discussed in detail when the organization holds its semi-annual meeting in November.

Alford says it will remain open for business as usual at least until next spring and possibly until this time next year. “We’re not in a big hurry to just up and close the place down or anything like that. We’ve given ourselves a lot of time.”

He stresses that relocation is a big question, but moves to relocate are already being explored. “We’ll get a better feel over the next few months how many hogs will go straight to Brandon and what needs will be necessary for assembly. The needs may be there today but you have to look further down the road too.”

Consolidation of Primary Processing Expected to Create Benefits

Sabapathy admits that even though the employees at the Marion Street plant were aware for some time that the facility would eventually be phased out it’s still very difficult communicating a closure.

However, he stresses, “The benefits are that we’re going to have one single strategy that’s supporting the value added meats and meals business. So right from hog production, feed, primary processing, all of those activities will fuel the growth in the company’s value added meats and meals business.”

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