Manitoba’s Hog Industry Benefits Economy

Commentary, Agriculture, Robert Sopuck

What is it about success that makes some Manitobans complain? Don’t we like jobs, prosperity, or money? Guess not, if the relentless attacks on Manitoba’s expanding hog industry are any indication. The hog business has a good story to tell but one despairs at the negativity. Let’s look at this remarkably successful industry in which we ALL have a stake.

Manitoba is Canada’s third largest hog-producing province and the industry is growing at 12 percent per year. Two crucial public policy changes made this happen. First, the federal Liberal government removed the Crow Rate that subsidized the export of raw grain. Second, single-desk marketing of hogs was removed by the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives in favour of flexible marketing. These changes spurred the construction of a new processing facility in Brandon by Maple Leaf Pork and expanded processing at Springhill Farms in Neepawa. Manitoba now produces about 5.3 million hogs annually which represents about 16% of the total value of our agricultural production. Over 12,000 jobs (yes, you read right, 12,000 jobs) depend upon hog production ranging from growers, to services (veterinary, trucking, feed), to meat packing, and to tertiary services. Every 1000 hogs that are grown create two to three jobs depending on how much processing is done in Manitoba. And the scope is there for further growth since last year we shipped out about 1.44 million weanlings to be fed and processed elsewhere.

Environmental concerns, both perceived and real, are the main impediment to hog industry expansion. However, the Livestock Stewardship Panel, composed of environmental experts and an agricultural economist, recently issued their report after a comprehensive study of the industry. The Panel concluded that intensive hog operations can increase the environmental and economic sustainability of a large grain farm by recycling nutrients in the form of manure as well as providing a market for feed grains. But, they also noted that more environmental monitoring is required and current regulations, while generally adequate, are not sufficiently enforced.

Better monitoring and technological improvement will solve any lingering environmental issues. These efforts must proceed. What can be concluded is that the benefits of the hog industry are enormous. One needs only drive by the Springhill Farms hog plant in Neepawa, as I regularly do, and see the full parking lot to realize the positive economic impact of the industry. That’s not all. We have all become sensitized to the plight of farmers and you can bet that many farm family members are employed in value-added agriculture. Rural hog processing jobs are “saving” struggling farms.

This industry came along in the “nick of time” to fill a void left by the loss of the Crow Rate and the resultant drastic reduction in feed grain prices. Feed grain prices are still low but at least farmers have a reliable outlet for their production. The future looks bright as the quality of Manitoba hogs becomes known around the world. The U.S. and South East Asia provide booming markets and the trend is only upward. We all have a stake in this industry so let’s do what we can to improve its environmental performance in order to expand hog production and processing. It’s good for Manitoba.