In the wake of recent production cutbacks at Maple Leaf Foods, Manitoba’s agriculture minister vows the province is being vigilant about addressing the hog shortage.
Minister Ron Kostyshyn said the province continues to work with the hog industry to try to find a solution to produce more hogs, while maintaining environmental standards.
"The manure treatment options are somewhat limited," Kostyshyn said. "I know that we’re always trying to work with industry, work with science, work with the universities ... how do we minimize phosphorus leaching into tributaries? That’s an ongoing opportunity that we work with the experts, and finding alternative mechanisms."
As the Brandon Sun reported yesterday, Maple Leaf Foods is cutting back production at the local 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. Employees will have to use a paid vacation day, otherwise it will be treated as an unpaid day off. This latest cutback comes as employees are already seeing a dip in hours.
Manitoba Pork Council general manager Andrew Dickson estimates Brandon’s Maple Leaf plant is operating at 70 per cent capacity.
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.
Kostyshyn said staff are doing "whatever they can" to work with the producers to find the most economical means to address the environmental concerns.
The goal, he says, is to provide the numbers to Maple Leaf so the plant can get back up to what they were producing in the past. The plant currently is running about 65,000 pigs per week, while in the past they have been up to 90,000.
"We really know the importance of Maple Leaf in Brandon in being a major employer to the Brandon area, but theoretically, to Manitoba’s economy as well," he said.
Brandon West Progressive Conservative MLA Reg Helwer said his party has raised concerns regarding Maple Leaf to Kostyshyn over the past few months.
"They discount the concerns," Helwer said. "We know that Maple Leaf has challenges and it’s important for the government to put structures in place so that companies can be successful, but this government has put in road blocks instead."
Helwer said he is concerned the local hog processing plant may have to make even more production cuts in the future.
"We see these jobs endangered by government policies and by the government ignoring things that need to happen," he said.
Meanwhile, Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell wanted to assure people that it is a priority to come up with a solution that both grows the economy while protecting Manitoba waterways.
"We’re working through that with Maple Leaf in a very collegial manner," he said. "There are obviously some road bumps on the way, we’re dealing with one of those road bumps right now, but we are mindful of the impact on local families and local workers of a loss of income."
Caldwell said the province is a key partner with Maple Leaf, and noted the fact that they work closely to ensure labour supply through the immigration program as well as invested in the waste water treatment plant.
"That doesn’t negate the challenge we’re having right now, but it does underscore the fact that we are supportive of this industry in a very real and substantial way and we’re going to continue to be supportive of the industry," Caldwell said.
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 28, 2014