News that Maple Leaf Foods plant in Brandon has cut back hours and shifts should be worrisome to all in this city.
Blaming a tight supply of hogs to slaughter, the plant has reportedly trimmed regular hours and dramatically cut back on overtime opportunities.
Maple Leaf is a behemoth in Brandon. It is not quite the tail that wags our municipal dog, but it is a big enough presence that its corporate health should be on the radar of multiple decision-makers from city hall to the chamber of commerce.
Brandon rightly celebrated when we lured the mega-plant to our eastern outskirts in 1997. Despite initial controversy over its environmental impact, and the incentives that Brandon doled out to the corporation, it’s indisputable now that Maple Leaf has been a huge boon to this city.
The plant has been a very good corporate citizen in Brandon. Early labour shortages have been filled with imported workers from a wide variety of countries — changing the face of Brandon forever and for the better. To be sure, there have been growing pains for our schools and our city’s vacancy rate remains uncomfortably tight. But the troubles of a growing community are a far sight more pleasant than those of one that is stagnant.
At one time, the plant was processing — sorry, this is a rural town, we can say slaughtering — some 85,000 hogs every week.
But just as changing market conditions helped Brandon lure Maple Leaf here, so could changing conditions make it less profitable for the plant to run at full tilt. In fact, Manitoba Pork Council general manager Andrew Dickson told the Sun that the plant is operating at only about 80 per cent capacity. The inefficiency means other plants, such as ones in the United States which operate at capacities in the high 90s, are more lucrative.
Unfortunately, we can thank our friends in Winnipeg for some provincial policy changes that are making things tougher for Maple Leaf — and by extension, Brandon — than they have to be.
In a desperate effort to burnish their green environmental credentials, the governing provincial NDP has introduced a scattershot smattering of new rules, regulations and laws. These may play well in the bubble of Fortress Winnipeg, but they’re starting to chafe out here in the real world.
The latest finally dropped yesterday, with a long-teased pesticide bylaw that is more about red tape than green results. Pesticides won’t be banned, as it turns out. Residents will just be told not to use them on their lawns — gardens are OK, however. Good luck with enforcing that toothless law.
But we’re not here to whine about dandelions, even though we sympathize with lawn-care companies burdened by the new rules.
We’re far more concerned with how tighter hog-production regulations are starting to ripple down from producer to slaughterhouse, and with the effects that may have for everyone in Brandon.
In 2011, the NDP introduced a provincewide ban on new hog barn developments unless they’re equipped with an anaerobic digestion system to treat the manure. That’s expensive — and may not even work very well in cold climates like ours.
That sticks Manitoba hog producers with old barns they can’t afford to replace, let alone expand.
Without some movement from the province to address this issue — we suggest consultations with the Manitoba Pork Council, which has come up with a sensible-sounding three-pronged strategy — it’s likely that Manitoba’s mighty hog industry will continue to be hamstrung.
And if pig producers flounder, causing Maple Leaf to sputter … well, that throws a wrench in all of Brandon’s economy.