Maple Leaf employees work on the cutting floor of the Brandon plant,
where the second shift has been slowed to about 50 per cent capacity
through attrition of employees.
Short 20,000 hogs per month, Maple Leaf has reduced the number of employees who work in Brandon from a potential peak capacity of 2,300 to 1,900, according to plant manager Morgan Curran-Blaney.
Speaking to producers at the Keystone Agricultural Producers’ general council meeting, Curran-Blaney said finding a solution to the hog moratorium in Manitoba is paramount to the industry’s success over the long term.
When asked if Maple Leaf could pay more to attract more hogs, Curran-Blaney said that solution wouldn’t deal with the root problem — not enough supply.
"There is a shortage of pigs, there just isn’t enough and you end up stealing from someone else," Curran-Blaney said.
The shortage has a ripple effect right through the province, as deboning plants in Winnipeg have slowed down operations because they rely on hogs from Brandon.
In 2011, the provincial government passed legislation that impedes that growth, enforcing a provincewide ban on new hog barn developments unless they’re equipped with an anaerobic digestion system to treat the manure.
The costly technology has basically capped the industry at its current state.
As infrastructure continues to age, the number of hogs in Manitoba could actually decline further.
According to a report prepared by Janet Honey for the department of agribusiness and agricultural economics at the University of Manitoba, the number of producers in the province has fallen significantly since 2005.
In 2005, there were almost 1,300 pig farms in the province, but that number has steadily declined to 575 farms in 2012.
Despite fewer farms, the number of hogs per farm has more than doubled, meaning the total number of hogs on farms has decreased marginally since 2007.
Curran-Blaney said the second shift at the plant has been slowed to about 50 per cent capacity through attrition of employees.
However, even if the company can somehow manage to bring 20,000 more hogs per month to the slaughter floor, it will run into another problem — finding workers.
Currently the plant loses approximately 40 employees per week and is able to fill only 12 of those spots domestically. Maple Leaf relies on foreign workers to make up the difference; however, changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program could squeeze the company.
New legislation states that no more than 10 per cent of an employer’s workforce can be made up of temporary foreign workers.
"Right now, eight per cent of our workforce is considered temporary foreign workers and are working toward their Canadian citizenship," Curran-Blaney said.
While 75 per cent of the company is made up of former immigrants, Curran-Blaney said many have already received their citizenship.
If the plant did need a sudden influx of workers, the new rules would create problems as recruiting from other countries would pick up.
Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Larry Maguire took a shot at the Manitoba government, saying it will take a "long time at the rate this government is going" to increase the supply of hogs.
That time, while not beneficial to Maple Leaf’s bottom line, will allow them to increase the workforce slowly.
"We know we are an area that is short of labour," Maguire said. "And it’s unfortunate that there wasn’t the odd bad apple out there (abusing the TFWP), there were thousands of cases."
He said there have been exceptions to the legislation in other ag-related industries.
"We have to see what develops with the needs of the industry, because bottom line we want these industries in Canada," he said. "We know what would happen to Brandon, the housing market and the malls if Maple Leaf was to have to move out of Brandon. It’s not an option."
Manitoba Pork Council general manager Andrew Dickson believes it would take another 150 sites to bring hog production to where it needs to be in the province.
He said it’s impossible for a farmer to borrow against his assets, in this case hog barns, to build anaerobic digesters which add no value to the operation.
"It does nothing for your cash flow and you haven’t added any hogs to the barn," Dickson said. "You can’t get this point through to an urban government —they don’t
A proposal for a dual-cell approach to separate phosphorous out into two streams of manure, with minimal costs, has been shot down, Dickson said.
"The Canadian hog industry is not sustainable unless there is a major influx of new money into the industry to build up its capacity."
» Twitter: @CharlesTweed
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 11, 2014