A major U.S. drought may be putting smiles on grain farmers’ faces these days, but it’s causing no end of grief for Manitoba hog producers.
As you read in the Brandon Sun this week, parched fields through a wide swath of the U.S. Midwest have curtailed crop production, sending international feed grain prices soaring while evaporating profits in the livestock sector.
That has sparked concern among hog farmers north of the border, where some observers link the discovery of 1,300 distressed piglets on a western Manitoba farm with the industry’s economic troubles.
The pigs were found “in severe distress” on a farm east of Austin and had to be euthanized. They were put down immediately to “avoid further pain and suffering,” the province’s chief veterinarian said in a statement.
That’s a tragic story that will strike a chord with many animal lovers.
Doug Chorney, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, said he fears similar stories could emerge in the coming weeks because troubles in the pork industry mean weanling pigs are essentially worthless.
“I phoned my neighbour who’s been a lifetime hog producer and is a very astute business person,” said Chorney, who noted the neighbour’s farm has raised hogs for 75 years.
“He said, ‘We’re depopulating our barn and by November there will be no hogs left.”’
That’s such a sad situation, as other areas of agriculture in Westman are booming, with farmers finally having a bumper crop that will benefit from those high prices.
One year after many farm fields were swamped by flooding, producers are hauling in a fantastic crop in many areas and benefiting from sky-high prices for a harvest that promises a province-wide payoff.
So while just about every crop producer in Manitoba is looking to have a good year in 2012, hog producers are in a sorry state.
Feed costs, reported the Winnipeg Free Press, are up close to 50 per cent because of strong grain prices, and they’re driving some Manitoba hog producers out of business.
The industry is caught in a cycle where feed prices are high at the start of the low season for hog prices, which typically doesn’t pick up until the spring.
“The buzz in the agriculture industry is the remarkable confluence of good yields and excellent prices,” Chorney said.
But that buzz will ripple well beyond the bins now being filled by combines out in the fields. Chorney said their research shows for every $1 earned at the farm gate, about $14 is put back in the economy.
“There are 62,000 jobs in Manitoba directly linked to agriculture and agri-food processing,” Chorney said. “There are numerous opportunities for Manitobans not engaged directly in farming to benefit. It is a good thing for the farmer to be successful because everyone benefits in the economy across the board.”
Steve Hofer of Starlight Hutterite Colony near Starbuck doesn’t need a pollster to tell him how good crops are in his area. “So far, harvest is way above the average of the last five years. We are enjoying a bountiful harvest.”
On top of that, there are three million more acres seeded in Manitoba alone that were under water in 2011.
But it’s not just Hofer and the two to three per cent of the Manitoba population engaged in primary agriculture production that will benefit from such bounty.
Trucking firms will have more business shipping all those bumper crops and it means equipment suppliers will get an uptick in their business.
In 2010, agri-food processing and the food-service industry accounted for $10.1 billion in economic activity in Manitoba.
While the situation overall is bittersweet, given the dire straights some hog produces are in, we are happy for the current good times for the grain sector.
And we certainly hope a lot of the money is re-invested through goods and services purchased at Westman retailers and implement supply dealers and not spent across the line or online in some foreign land.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 31, 2012