Traffic and workers flow in and out of the Maple Leaf plant, east of the city, during a shift change on Monday afternoon. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
Workers enter the Maple Leaf Foods plant on Monday afternoon. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
Employees at Maple Leafs Foods’ are starting to feel the pinch as the company continues to scale back the number of hours available at the local hog processing plant.
One employee, who works the second shift at the plant, said he is working eight hours less per week compared to last year; and it’s a far cry from the days when overtime was readily available upon request.
He said it has hurt some employees who were hoping to purchase a home in Brandon. It has also made it difficult for workers from foreign countries who send money home each month to family and friends.
"The fixed costs don’t change (here) — rent, food, gas — (so) to make less money it comes from something else," he said, asking to remain anonymous.
The biggest reason for the slowdown is Manitoba producers aren’t producing enough hogs to require two full production shifts at the plant, he said.
Manitoba Pork Council general manager Andrew Dickson said the plant is operating at approximately 80 per cent capacity. The inefficiency means other plants, such as ones in the United States which operate in the high 90 per cent, are more lucrative.
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.
However, the total number of hogs on farms has decreased marginally since 2007.
The biggest change is since that time, both Maple Leaf Foods and HyLife Foods in Neepawa have added second shifts requiring a major influx in the number of hogs produced.
The best solution would be to allow Manitoba producers to expand operations rather than rely on hogs from Saskatchewan to buoy production at processing plants. But the provincial government passed legislation in 2011 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.
Dickson said the technology is costly and less effective in colder climates.
The porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) could threaten that supply chain further if it sweeps across Manitoba like it has in other provinces and states.
The fast-moving virus, which is most commonly spread by hogs ingesting contaminated feces, has already been confirmed on 43 farms in Ontario and one farm in Quebec and Prince Edward Island.
Exports to the United States also take a big bite out of the hog market in Manitoba.
According to Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development the swine industry exports close to half of all the pigs born on Manitoba farms, leaving the rest to be slaughtered in one of three federal plants or one of the many provincial abattoirs.
Iowa, Minneota and Wisconsin are the biggest importers of Manitoba hogs, importing approximately 3.3 million head of the 3.6 million total hogs exported to our southerly neighbours.
Dickson said the industry accounts for $1.5 billion of the provincial economy.
With prices at record highs, and the belief they will go higher as PEDv threatens more and more producers in the United States, Dickson hopes Manitoba producers will start to reinvest in barns and capacity.
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 22, 2014