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Ag census reveals sharp increase in hog numbers

Increased investment in processing has helped hog production expand, but labour shortages continue to hinder future growth.

The national sheep flock has shrunk since the previous census, but the goat, bison and elk sectors have seen increases

Canada’s cattle inventories may face a 20-year downward trend but that’s not the case in other livestock categories, according to data from the Statistics Canada 2021 agricultural census.

Hogs are one of livestock’s bright spots with a 600,000 head increase since 2001 to more than 14.5 million being reported in the latest census data.

Cam Dahl, Manitoba Pork general manager, said that province’s hog sector is thriving. Census data shows nearly a million head increase over the last two decades.

“The other thing we’re seeing, especially in Manitoba, is a growing investment in processing,” said Dahl, citing a new Maple Leaf bacon plant in Winnipeg supporting 350 jobs. “Those pork bellies used to go into the U.S. for processing.”

Additionally, the $35 million Topigs Norsvin nucleus farm, based in Plumas, is another support underpinning growth in Manitoba’s hog sector, said Dahl.

Growing primary production is building into a critical mass for the industry in the province, leading to an upsurge of secondary industries, such as the Roquette pea plant in Portage La Prairie, added Dahl.

“The byproducts of that are almost exclusively going into pig feed,” he said. “We are seeing the growth of that value-added processing go hand-in-hand with the growth in livestock.”

With 90 percent of Manitoba’s hog sector products being shipped out of the province, Dahl said the industry is a boon for rural communities and one which he expects to grow.

But there is a constraint to further growth.

“At the top of that list is labour,” said Dahl. “And that goes throughout the entire value chain.”

Sheep inventories nationally have seen a slight decline over the last five years but one province bucking the trend is Alberta, according to the Statistics Canada data.

Jolene Airth, owner of Big Hill Sheep in Rocky View County, Alta., said the footprint of sheep is smaller, making them attractive to those getting into agriculture without having to pay high land prices for large tracts as would be required for cattle.

There is also a cultural trend, which makes sheep attractive, she added.

“People are really going back to homesteading and wanting to grow their own food and know where it’s coming from,” said Airth. “You can milk a sheep; you can make cheese and of course you can eat the meat. People are trying to become more self-sufficient to sustain themselves.”

Wool production can be another revenue stream sheep can offer, a source of income that Airth acknowledged hasn’t been the greatest in recent years but one which appears ready for a rebound as consumers are looking for sustainably produced clothing.

“It is a lot of work to go through the shearing, the skirting, having it prepared,” she said. “But I think as times goes on, the demand for wool will increase.”

On the meat side, with domestic production only meeting about 40 percent of demand coupled with a growing immigrant population with an appetite for lamb, the market is there, though challenged by inexpensive imports from countries like New Zealand, said Airth.

“But people want fresh. They want to know where it’s coming from. They want to know how it’s raised and they want to be able to come to the ranch and look at the lamb, look at the feed and look at the animals and how they are raised,” she said.

The dynamics of sheep also foster more of a collaborative rather than competitive nature in the industry, which is striving to grow domestic market share, Airth added.

“Any lamb producer will mentor another if you are just getting into it. That’s one of the important things that I see.”

Other livestock sectors reporting more animals are goats, bison and elk, according to the 2021 agricultural census.

Par: Alex McCuaig (02/06/2022)

Source: (The Western Producer)

Photo : Archives | The Western Producer

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