There are many rather cruel jokes about farming. My favourite “Wanna know how to make a small fortune?”. The answer .. “Buy a farm with a large fortune.”
One sector that many non-farming types like me have always had trouble understanding is the hog industry. Unlike grain and oilseeds where a severe hailstorm or other calamity can destroy a whole year’s effort in mere minutes, the hog farmer faces a more complex set of risks.
Manitoba leads the nation in the volume of pork that’s produced for export. 2011 was a rare good year when profits were made. This year has seen a dramatic reversal. The severe drought in the U.S. has driven the cost of feed sky high, and major processing plants have gone into bankruptcy in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
The industry says many producers will go out of business, unless government helps them with a $150 million bailout package. Premier Greg Selinger and his NDP regime were already facing a long list of such problems, from the growing nightmare with Manitoba Hydro, to helping the Winnipeg Blue Bumblers get into their new stadium. Added to that is the fact that most hog farms are located in ridings that are held by the Conservative opposition in Manitoba.
The industry says the $150 million would effectively be bridge financing to get them over the hump until next year, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that next year will be better.
The answer to the boom / bust cycle in hogs would appear to be some form of supply management such as there is in dairy and poultry, but don’t hold your breath. The transformation of the Canadian Wheat Board clearly demonstrates what’s happening on that issue.
From a personal perspective, this champion barbequer now almost prefers a delicious pork chop or pork tenderloin over a T-Bone steak. It’s a great product, but like a lot of other things these days, it’s global and not local.
I’m Roger Currie
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