Pork Producers Benefit Many

Ron Bazylo, Swine Specialist, Swan River

People who are quick to criticise the idea of corporate hog farming often lack significant knowledge of the pork industry. They have simply spent more time fearing the idea than learning what the industry actually involves.

Most critics have never actually met a hog farmer. Maybe it would surprise them to learn that hog farmers are businessmen who are interested in raising hogs as livestock and that they are proud of the skills they have acquired.

Corporate hog farming is simply a response to the demands of today's highly competitive business environment. When profit margins are slim, large volume production is a legitimate response. Economies of scale require producers to unite in business to create efficient and profitable enterprises. Corporate hog farming is not unlike the trends in grain and cattle production, which have seen the growth of huge grain farms and large cattle feedlots. It is simply survival of the fittest.

A close examination will reveal that corporate hog farms have many benefactors from businesses, to grain farmers, to the local, provincial and federal tax base. In the interest of correcting a few erroneous perceptions, what follows are a few facts gleaned from owners in a 4,000 head hog finishing venture in Manitoba.

The development and ongoing operation of this particular enterprise has had a significant economic impact both locally and provincially. Capital expenditures of $1.1 million were required to get the operation started. The primary contractor and supplier was a Manitoba firm and the bulk of the equipment came from another Manitoba supplier. Many local businesses participated in the supply and installation of items like concrete, rafters and water system components, and local trades people were employed in the construction phases.

In operation two years now, the hog operation provides continuing local benefits. Two local people have steady, secure employment that allows them to raise their families locally and participate fully as members of the community.

Numerous local businesses provide product and services for day –to-day farm operations. Over $10,000 is spent locally on repair and maintenance at local businesses. A local company carries the annual $6,000 farm insurance policy. The local co-op provides supplies and propane worth another $6,000 per year. Manitoba Hydro sells the operation about $9,000 worth of electrical power annually.

Local ratepayers benefit directly from the $6,000 the operation pays in property taxes and the $3000 it pays in school taxes. The federal and provincial income taxes and corporate taxes generated are also substantial.

The most significant economic impact generated by the operation is the largest budget item, feed, and its prime component barley. In the most recent fiscal year, feed purchased from a Manitoba feed mill cost about $600,000. More than 130,000 bushels of barley were purchased and processed locally. creating employment for local grain farmers, feed processors, manufacturers and transportation businesses.

The hog operation uses so much barley that the local price is affected. Last summer, the price of barley through a local elevator on the open market was $1.49 per bushel. Barley delivered through the Canadian Wheat Board would pay $1.00 per bushel with an expected final payment of $.54 per bushel for a total price of $1.54 bushel. On the same day, barley sold for $1.85 per bushel at the local feed processor. Expansion of the hog operation would undoubtedly edge the local price even higher, benefiting grain farmers and the local economy in the process.

Grain farmers need to grow barley as part of their crop rotations. The long-standing practice of exporting barley has become uneconomical with the rail cost of approximately $1.00 per bushel to move barley to ports. The solution for grain farmers is to sell their barley to local pork producers at a premium. It is a symbiotic and highly sustainable practice.

Finally, from an economic standpoint, the transport and processing of livestock is the ultimate aim of the hog farming business. This is an industry that generates income and economic activity on a provincial and national scale as pork is transported to modern, efficient, pork processing plants in Brandon and Winnipeg. Finished products can be shipped worldwide. The industry and its related spin-off industries in the food processing and marketing sectors employs thousands of people and feeds hundreds of thousands more.

With all these benefits, it seems odd that industry detractors are still so anxious to buy into distorted information about the environmental aspects of farming. Much as been made by opponents of hog expansion, particularly regarding environmental concerns such as the storage and use of waste from the livestock.

The fact is, each manure storage structure constructed in the province must have a permit from Manitoba Conservation. Earthen storages are not dug haphazardly out of the ground. Soil tests and a design by a professional engineer must be secured first. Every earthen storage constructed since 1994 requires annual inspection. The provincial regulations meet or exceed the standards for urban lagoons used to store human waste.

The earthen storage structure for this 4,000-hog Manitoba operation has a capacity for 400 days of storage. It is dispersed once a year on surrounding farmland, a practice that provides valuable organic soil nutrients not found in most commercial fertilizers. Soil that has manure applied to it is tested every year to prevent over application. Techniques for applying manure are well studied and the equipment is frequently updated.

The manure itself is also analyzed for nutrients so that proper amounts are applied. Contrary to what opponents of hog developments may say, this is a highly environmentally friendly and sustainable practice. It recycles nutrients that came from the earth, back to the earth.

Demand for pork is growing at home and in overseas markets. Pork production will grow to meet those demands. Manitoba has many advantages, making it well suited for pork production, including large open areas with land for manure application, low population density, plentiful and economical feed grain supplies. But whether the pork industry grows in Manitoba or elsewhere will be affected by how much people are willing to learn about this industry.

Just as in so many other areas of life, fear is born of ignorance. But ignorance is completely unnecessary with all the available information about hog farming in Manitoba.

Manitobans need to understand that hog farming in this province is one of the most strictly regulated and closely monitored farming occupations found anywhere. Environmental regulations are stringent and often go far beyond what any other farming occupation in the province is asked to follow.

The challenge for the future is to continue providing a regulatory environment that is sustainable, considerate of communities and the environment and not too onerous and difficult for producers to live up to. There is every reason to believe that Manitobans can be allowed to have their pork and eat it, too.