Hog farmers get compensation for losses during Olymel closure

Hog producers will receive up to $4 million to offset the cost of feeding animals that had to be held back because of the temporary closure of Olymel's pork-processing plant in Red Deer.

The AgriRecovery plan will pay 95 cents per day per market-ready hog for maintenance rations until the end of this month when a backlog of pigs, which topped 100,000 animals, is expected to be largely cleared. The Olymel plant, the largest in the province, closed in mid-February and began slowly reopening on March 4. More than 500 of the 1,850 workers at the operation con-tracted COVID-19 and three died.

Payments from the set-aside plan, to be cost shared 60-40 between the federal and Alberta governments, are based on the number of days eligible animals were fed (up to a maximum of 23 days). There are two components to the program:maintenance feed costs, and destruction and disposal costs.

"We are currently focused on the maintenance component of the program, and will address emerging needs over the next month as the situation unfolds," said Agriculture Financial Services Corporation, which is administering the program.

That is, if slaughter capacity "continues to be an issue" and a producer can't wait any longer to market animals, the second component would then compensate for "extraordinary costs associated with the humane slaughter and disposal of nonmarketable hogs."

The Red Deer plant, which can slaughter 45,000 hogs weekly, started at about half capacity and was expected to take a few weeks to return to normal operations.

Many producers ship to Red Deer on a weekly basis and the shutdown left them carrying out contingency plans and "alternative solutions" for marketing, said Alberta Pork.

"The financial burden for individual producers, in this situation, has ranged from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars," it said.

Only market-ready hogs are covered by the program, so would not include boars, sows and any hogs not considered market ready.

While the resumption of processing was good news for producers, the union representing workers said its members didn't believe Olymel had taken "sufficient measures in order to make the workplace safe."

"Olymel workers still do not feel safe at the plant, they do not trust either Olymel or government officials to keep them safe," United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 401 wrote in a letter to Olymel in early March.

In a union survey, threequarters of workers said they were scared or nervous about returning to work, even though 90 per cent said they struggled financially during the closure because they were not paid, said the union.

In announcing the hog setaside program, federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said the government "also care(s) deeply about the health and safety of food production plant workers, who are doing essential work, and we have implemented a range of emergency safety and worker benefit programs to support their safety and well-being.

Par Dave Bedard (22/03/2021)

Source : Alberta Farmer Express

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