Deadly viruses and outdated barns are two of the biggest challenges facing Manitoba's hog producers, a senior industry official said Wednesday.
Manitoba Pork Council (MPC) chairman Karl Kynoch told the MPC's annual meeting in Winnipeg preventing the spread of the deadly porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus is still the local industry's No. 1 challenge.
"Hopefully, we can keep this to a minimum," Kynoch said, noting the virus has been found on only one Manitoba farm and at two unidentified facilities that handle large numbers of pigs.
That compares to more than 43 infected farms in Ontario and more than 5,200 in the United States, where the death toll is now estimated at more than five million piglets. The virus, which is believed to have originated in China and surfaced in North America last May, kills mainly young pigs. It doesn't pose a threat to other animals or to humans.
Kynoch said some Manitoba hog producers have spent a lot of money beefing up their on-farm bio-security measures in recent years.
He noted one Hutterite colony is even building its own truck-disinfecting facility in a bid to reduce the risk of spreading the disease.
"So keep up the good work," he added.
While PED is top of mind for many producers these days, a longer-term concern for the industry is how to replace aging hog barns.
Kynoch said the industry should be replacing 20 to 30 barns per year, and only four new ones have built in the last five years. He blamed that on years of poor returns for producers due to low hog prices and high input costs, and on strict provincial environmental regulations governing the treatment of pig manure, which make building new barns too costly for most producers.
He said the concern is if these older, less-efficient barns aren't replaced, pig production in the province will suffer and local pork-processing plants may be forced to scale back to just one production shift per day.
"Then we would be right back where we started," he said.
He said MPC officials are working with provincial officials to see if other, less costly, and/or more effective manure-treatment methods could be adopted. And it's also in talks with federal and provincial officials about developing some sort of government support program that would help producers access the capital needed to build new barns.
"But that one is still a long way off," he added in a later interview.