Maple Leaf Foods is cutting back production at the local hog-processing plant by one day per month over the next five months.
A total of 1,800 of the plant’s 2,200 employees will be affected by this change.
"It’s a non-production day, so we’re not processing hogs on that day, which will allow us to better align our operations with our business needs, but also to complete capital investment projects without disrupting production," said Maple Leaf Foods spokesperson Dave Bauer.
People working on both the kill and cut floors will be affected, while maintenance and powerhouse employees will continue to work.
Bauer said to mitigate the concern of not coming into work, employees can use a paid vacation day.
"Employees who prefer to defer a vacation day will treat it as an unpaid day away from work," he said.
The company continues to scale back due to a hog shortage in Manitoba.
"The supply issue is something that affects the entire industry, the entire province," Bauer said. "We’re doing everything we can to increase supply and mitigate the impact on our employees."
As reported in the Brandon Sun last month, one employee said the biggest reason for the slowdown is Manitoba producers aren’t producing enough hogs to require two full production shifts at the plant.
Manitoba Pork Council general manager Andrew Dickson estimates Brandon’s Maple Leaf plant is operating at 70 per cent capacity. Currently the plant is running about 65,000 pigs per week, Dickson said, whereas in the past they have been up to 90,000.
They are technically eligible to go up to 103,000; however, extra environmental work would have to be done.
As a comparison, most plants of the same size in the United States are generally running at 95 to 97 per cent capacity, he added.
"At this moment in time, a number of plants in the U.S. are experiencing similar difficulties … due to (porcine epidemic diarrhea virus)," Dickson said. "Brandon’s problem is a long-term issue, they’ve always been low.
"We don’t have the disease here in any significant way, so the challenge Brandon is facing is a longer-term issue. They need more pigs."
There is currently a provincewide ban on new hog barn developments unless they’re equipped with an anaerobic digestion system to treat the manure. Dickson said the technology is costly and less effective in colder climates.
"We need some changes in the environment regulations to allow us to use some different technologies other than the ones they’re promoting right now," Dickson said.
"We’ve got agreement from the province, that they are prepared to consider different technologies. It’s just we’re having a hard time getting them to put that down on paper."
The hog shortage is a major concern for the Manitoba Pork Council, and Dickson said they have been sounding the alarm for the past five years.
"No one believed us," he said. "We could see it, we do the numbers here."
While numbers tend to decline in the summer at hog-processing plants, Dickson said this is the first time he’s ever heard of Brandon’s plant having to cut back the number of production days.
Brandon’s decline in pork production is also having an impact on Winnipeg’s Maple Leaf plant, which has 1,200 employees. Dickson said they are short of product to process into bacon and hams.
"My hope is it’s not going to get worse," he said.
Manitoba Pork Council is calling on the provincial and federal governments to step in.
Dickson said changing environmental regulations "would be a good start."
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