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Manitoba Moratoriums Underscore Saskatchewan’s Suitability for Hog Production

by 5m Editor
29 March 2008, at 5:14am

CANADA - Pork producers in Saskatchewan are pointing to recently announced moratoriums on hog industry expansion in much of neighboring Manitoba as further evidence to support the continued expansion of hog production in their province.

Manitoba Government Imposes Moratoriums on Hog Industry Expansion

Earlier this month, following the release of a Manitoba Clean Environment Commission report on the environmental sustainability of the province’s hog industry, Manitoba Conservation announced it will impose a permanent moratorium in three areas including Southeastern Manitoba, the Red River Valley Special Management Zone, including the Capital Region of the province, and the Interlake.

Florian Possberg, director of industry relations with Humboldt-based Big Sky Farms and one of the directors on the Saskatchewan Slaughter Plant Initiative, believes the moratorium in Manitoba helps underscore the suitability of Saskatchewan for producing hogs.

“We still have a vision of increasing our hog production base in Saskatchewan long term as a cornerstone for agriculture here. We truly believe that Saskatchewan has the environment, we have the feed stocks, we have the space. We know we can produce hogs economically and very healthy hogs. So we think the future for hog production is bright for Saskatchewan.”

Possberg points out that although there is widespread belief that some of the environmental issues have been taken out of context in Manitoba, Saskatchewan is not subject to the same environmental pressures that Manitoba faces.

He observes a lot of Manitoba’s production is based in the Red River Valley flood area which has eroded a lot of the goodwill and support the industry enjoyed five and ten years ago.

“Once you have a government that sort of divorces themselves from growing the future of the business, which we see is happening in Manitoba, that’s not a comforting thought for the whole industry there.”

Saskatchewan Well Suited for Hog Production

Despite the current downturn in the profitability of hog production, the Saskatchewan government remains convinced the province is well suited for hog production.

“A big part of Saskatchewan’s economy is our hog industry,” says Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Bob Bjornerud.

He notes the province has a couple of Canada’s largest operations with Stomp Farms and Big Sky, as well smaller producers – the Hutterite farm operations which produce large numbers of hogs and small mixed farms that also produce hogs.

Manitoba Moratorium Expected to Have Minimal Impact in Saskatchewan

Bjornerud doubts the moratoriums in Manitoba will have much of an impact on pork production in his province. In fact, he believes continued expansion in the areas affected by the moratoriums would have been more likely to affect production and processing opportunities in his province.

He acknowledges, “The regulations in Manitoba are somewhat more onerous on producers than they are in Saskatchewan, I think for that matter, even in North Dakota.”

Nonetheless, he is satisfied with the regulatory guidelines that have been in place in Saskatchewan since 1971. “There’s a pretty intense review before a hog barn goes up. Everyone is naturally concerned with the environment. But those that follow it very closely, to a great degree, are satisfied that our regulations are working well when it comes to hog barns.”

He stresses, “We certainly haven’t ran into any problems up to this point and we have a fair number of years of history here with hog barns out there right now. To this point everything has worked fairly well.”

Recent Developments Support Processing Plant Initiative

Possberg believes the ban on hog barn expansion in Manitoba offers further justification for efforts to reestablish primary processing capacity in Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan Slaughter Plant Initiative chairman Jim Ramsay, representing the Fishing Lake First Nation, reports efforts to bring a new primary pork processing plant to Saskatchewan remain on target.

Members of the initiative, which includes Saskatchewan First Nations, the Saskatchewan Pork Development Board and Big Sky Farms, have been working to restore slaughter capacity that was lost with the closure of Mitchell’s Gourmet Foods by Maple Leaf Foods.

The proposal calls for a new plant, with a one million head per year capacity expandable to two million head on a double shift, to be built in Saskatoon’s north industrial area.

Ramsay notes an extensive evaluation shows the plan is economically feasible. “It shows that it is a sound business concept.”

Efforts to raise the $100 million needed to finance stage one of construction are in the works now.

Lack of Processing Challenges Producers

Possberg believes the lack of federally inspected slaughter capacity is the biggest challenge facing Saskatchewan’s hog industry right now. It has forced hogs from Saskatchewan to go east, west or south and in some cases as baby pigs. Another challenge for hog producers is that they are experiencing very tough economic times so their ability to participate in financing of a project is limited.

“The First Nations do have a vision, and they do have sources of funds to really push this project forward. And so without First Nations help this thing wouldn’t be going anywhere right now.”

Local Processing Part of Long Term Vision

Possberg admits, “The idea of Saskatchewan continuing to work on a processing plant is probably scoffed at by many in North America and, quite frankly, around the globe.”

However, he notes, the First Nations bring a different perspective to the whole issue of food processing, in this case pork processing.

“Saskatchewan First Nations have about three million acres of arable farmland and growing crops in our region has been a real struggle for a lot of years. The idea of creating a sustainable food source for future generations on First Nations land is part of a dream of a number of the First Nations people and is something that really has long term scope to it.”

He says one of the things that sticks out in his mind is that the First Nations are considering the project from their traditional seven generations perspective. Taking experience from what happened with parents and grandparents, what is happening currently and what it will do for their children and grandchildren.

“I think the First Nations are looking at what the opportunities there will be for their children and their children’s children. And putting an emphasis on a sustainable food supply is really quite important.”

Processing Key to Saskatchewan Industry’s Long Term Success

Possberg remains convinced Saskatchewan has an environment that is well suited to hog production and, with approximately 46 percent of the cultivated land in Canada, the feed necessary to support livestock is readily available.

He suggests that for Saskatchewan’s hog industry to be sound and sustainable it needs both primary and further processing capacity.

“The packing plant in Saskatoon is really the first step in creating an opportunity to build a sustainable food production system based on their [First Nations] land to create a legacy for generations to go forward for safe, nutritious, healthy food.”

5m Editor