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More pork processing capacity needed to bring home the bacon

The imbalance between production and processing was a hot topic at the March 23 Ontario Pork meeting.

“This is a critical time for our industry,” said John de Bruyn, Ontario Pork chair. “Sustainable growth of Ontario pork production is contingent on further investment in processing capacity close to home.”

To assist processors in overcoming the challenges of growing their businesses, Ontario Pork has started conversations with processors to understand their long-term plans.

Why it matters: Pork processing capacity is limiting farmers’ ability to increase production and strengthen the industry, says Ontario Pork.

Pork producers say reducing herd size to meet processor capacity is not an option. Instead, each industry must work to find solutions for both sides.

De Bruyn said that in 2021, the industry dealt with plant interruptions due to strike action, line speed slowdowns due to work absences and pandemic-related closures. However, Ontario hogs made it to market in part due to producers’ ability to move animals to processors in other regions.

“The net result is that there’s no elasticity in the Ontario processing sector to deal with the number of market-ready hogs currently on our farms,” he said.

It is not producers’ role to build new processing plants, he added, but they can facilitate discussion and help find solutions for the industry’s infrastructure and hog supply challenges, especially around access to labour.

Reinforcing government officials who say Ontario is the ideal location for investment in the pork industry could encourage further automation in the processing sector and reduce its labour reliance.

“We have the land base. We have the clean water. We have the transportation infrastructure to get our product to market,” de Bruyn said. “Most importantly, we have the people with the know-how and the history to produce pork in a sustainable and efficient way.”

With a continued effort and collaboration with the government, de Bruyn said the industry could overcome hurdles that impede investment in local processing capacity.

“We are very fortunate that the Ontario government has acknowledged the need for investment in process capacity and is interested in supporting the agri-food industry.”

De Bruyn said that during its 75 years, Ontario’s pork sector has earned a reputation for resiliency and perseverance in the face of adversity.

“They (producers and industry partners) keep showing up for work so we can continue to provide pork for our customers,” he said. “But our supply chain certainly remains fragile. We know that every link of the supply chain is vital.”

Ken Ovington, Ontario Pork general manager, said that throughout 2021, lobby efforts helped prompt government funding for on-farm biosecurity investment and disease prevention and preparedness.

“Ontario Pork also provided input into the creation of the new invasive species legislation to reduce disease risk, as well as changes that reduce regulatory burden under the Nutrient Management Act.”

The communications and industry members service department responded to emerging issues, including animal care visits, barn fire support, animal activism and issues management.

“The pandemic has provided an opportunity to advance emergency preparedness based on lessons we’ve learned,” Ovington said. “Foreign animal disease planning gained momentum as African swine fever (ASF) reached the western hemisphere.”

Ontario Pork, the industry and the government, developed plans to secure equipment needed in the event of large-scale herd reductions and resulting impact on the pork industry.

“Progress was made on several files, including depopulation and disposal, hog reduction modelling, resource management, crisis communication, disease surveillance and traceback tools, and provincial and national crisis simulations,” Ovington said.

This summer, Ontario Pork will launch an on-farm emergency preparedness project to help farms prepare site-specific emergency plans.

“Ontario pork continues to work on planning for a market interruption event and the programs needed for producers to make informed decisions,” de Bruyn said.

“In the meantime, I want to encourage each of you to consider the implications of an ASF outbreak on your farm and think about your on-farm emergency plans.”

Producer uptake of the enhanced biosecurity ASF preparedness cost-share initiative prompted the government to increase funding to $3.25 million.

In addition, Ontario Pork established the National Programs Evaluation Committee to review Canadian pork excellence programs in Ontario and ensure they remain practical and add value. The same lens has focused on research to guarantee it advances the industry and strengthens the sector.

The new public trust campaign, We Go Whole Hog, is expected to launch this year and highlight locally grown pork, farmers, transporters, processors, veterinarians and chefs. It includes a new partnership with the Toronto Football Club.

“The campaign will celebrate great food and how it connects people from farm to table,” said Ovington. “Connecting with the public to share our story through social responsibility reports and public trust will help pave the way for a stable business environment for producers.”

Par : Diana Martin (22/04/2022)

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