Hog producers welcome return to profitability

Soaring pork demand has allowed meat prices to rise to levels that drive packers to slaughter all the pigs they can get their hands on.

Last year’s drought, today’s high feedgrain prices and an uncertain global economic outlook continue to challenge sector

It wasn’t hard to find smiles and good will in this meeting room full of Manitoba hog farmers.

After two years of being more than usually isolated, producers met in person again for the Manitoba Pork Council’s annual meeting April 6 at a downtown Winnipeg hotel. COVID-19 restrictions had kept them apart since early 2020, and farmers were wrestling with market mayhem, soaring feed grain prices and an outbreak of disease since the last time they met in person.

“People are happy to be out and seeing each other again,” said Johnny Prejet, a 32-year-old farmer southeast of Winnipeg, during a break in the day-long meeting.

It wasn’t just the relief of being back together and seeing old friends that provided the event with a happy mood. Despite numerous challenges, these are good days for Manitoba’s hog producers.

“As long as there’s profitability, the industry will maintain its size and even grow,” said Prejet, who operates a farrow-to-finish farm with his father.

“Lots of good things are happening. Lots of young people are entering the industry. Lots of people are working on different things.”

Jeroen van Boekel, who operates four sow barns in the Pembina valley area, said the return of profitability has allowed producers to enjoy the business again, even if last year’s drought, today’s high feedgrain prices and an uncertain economic outlook for the globe throw some caution into their outlook.

“I’m optimistic where we’re at right now,” said van Boekel, who immigrated to Manitoba from Holland 20 years ago and has seen the hog industry’s severe cycles of profitability and losses come and go.

“I’m a little bit nervous about what would happen if we had a problem, if meat prices dropped and if we still had these high grain prices.”

While many Manitoba hog farms are operated by middle-aged producers, a generation of young farmers have been moving into their family operations and taking bigger roles in production and management. That makes van Boekel happy because he saw many young producers leave the industry during the brutal down cycle that hit during the Great Financial Crisis of 2007-08 and continued past the 2012 drought shock that sent feedgrain prices sky high.

“The profitability just wasn’t there. A lot of young people left the industry,” said van Boekel.

“Now you see young, enthusiastic producers coming in.”

Soaring pork demand has allowed meat prices to rise to levels that drive packers to slaughter all the pigs they can get their hands on.

That’s often been a challenge for the packers during the pandemic, with workers falling sick to COVID-19. Today, most packers are running at as close to full capacity as they can with the workers they can find.

Labour shortages continue and packers on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border are calling on their governments to keep borders open to the temporary foreign workers who make up a significant proportion of the workforce.

The same problem confronts many hog farms, who also rely upon foreign workers. Getting willing staff through the border has been more challenging during the pandemic.

On a farm level plenty of other challenges confront producers.

This year, Manitoba farms have faced a large outbreak of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, which saw many farms lose most of their piglets. As well, the industry is looking warily south, where African swine fever has appeared in the Caribbean.

At the same time farms have been undergoing renovations to move to open housing for gestating sows, an expensive process that also requires different sow-handling skills.

But the mood amidst producers is decidedly upbeat. As the most cyclical industry in agriculture, the producer families that remain in the business are familiar with appreciating the good times and preparing for when things turn more challenging.

Par : Ed White (14/04/2022)

Source : producer.com (The Western Producer)

Photo : rawpixel.com