The plant's 1,850 employees process approximately 50,000 pigs per week. Those pigs now have nowhere to go, said Darcy Fitzgerald, executive director of Alberta Pork
Alberta hog farmers will face some difficult choices if the Red Deer pork processing facility at the centre of a major COVID-19 outbreak cannot reopen promptly.
On Monday, Quebec-based Olymel announced it will close its Red Deer plant for an “indefinite period” because of the outbreak, which has resulted in 326 cases of COVID-19 among the facility’s employees as of Monday. One worker — a man in his 30s with no pre-existing health conditions — has died from the disease.
Hog farmers must 'wait it out' as Red Deer Olymel plant closure threatens to back up pipeline
The plant is the second-largest pork processing facility in Western Canada, second only to the Maple Leaf plant in Brandon, Man. Its 1,850 employees process approximately 50,000 pigs per week. Those pigs now have nowhere to go, said Darcy Fitzgerald, executive director of Alberta Pork.
“Two weeks is about the limit for how long these pigs can stay at home, and then we really run into problems,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re in a bit of a conundrum, to say the least, while we wait it out.”
Unlike cattle ranchers, who may have extra pens in the feed yard and can put animals on diets that are designed to slow their growth until slaughter capacity becomes available, hog producers raise their pigs in heated barns with separate areas for animals of different sizes. New piglets are always being born, so farmers quickly run out of space if the production pipeline suddenly grinds to a halt.
In the absence of a market for full-grown animals, farmers may try to sell their smaller pigs to a buyer with the capacity to care for them, but they then lose out on the money they would have made off of those animals. And holding onto their pigs for even an extra week or two means a significant increase in feed costs.
In the spring, when Olymel’s Quebec pork processing plant shut down due to a COVID outbreak, some farmers in Eastern Canada resorted to euthanizing their own pigs that had nowhere to go.
That is unlikely to happen here, as long as the Red Deer plant closure is short-lived, Fitzgerald said.
“That (euthanization) would be the last straw for guys, if they had to,” he said. “But this can’t really go on for more than two weeks.”
In an interview, Olymel spokesman Richard Vigneault said the company does not have a target date in mind for reopening.
“The main thing now that is necessary is to protect our employees,” Vigneault said. “I can’t tell you how long it will take.”
According to Alberta Pork, there are about 300 commercial hog producers and about 570 smaller non-commercial registered hog producers in the province.
Par Amanda Stephenson • Calgary Herald
Source : edmontonjournal.com