Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Dennis Organ to head Maple Leaf pork

Maple Leaf Foods Inc. has made Dennis Organ president of its pork division.

He has 27 years experience in the meat-packing industry including 11 with Smithfield Foods where he was chief operating officer and chief executive officer.

Maple Leaf Foods bought the J.M Schneider business of Kitchener from Smithfield Foods in 2003.

Smithfield was and still is the largest pork producer and packer in North America and is now owned by the W.H. Group of China.

Pushback on CN’s failure to pay for drains

A couple of municipalities in the Windsor area are pushing back on CN Rail for refusing to pay for drainage work conducted on its properties.

CN began refusing to pay in 2022, arguing that it is a federally-regulated company and does not need to comply with provincial regulations.

Ontario Agriculture Minister Lisa Thompson has said in the past that the Ontario Drainage Act applies to all property owners, including the railway companies.

Warwick Township and the Town of Plympton-Wyoming say they are owed $240,000 and have given CN Rail untjl March to their requests for payment.

Warwick Mayor Todd Case said his municipality expressed its concerns at a recent meeting with CN officials.

“We’re not the only municipalities in Ontario that are experiencing the same thing,” said Case. “Let’s be honest, they do benefit from the drain just as much as a farmer does or the person living on that country estate. We’re just saying that ‘look, you have to do the right thing and you’ve got to pay your fair share’.”

Case said CN’s refusal to follow provincial law is delaying numerous drainage-related projects across the province.

“Drains are always prorated and everybody pays according to the benefit they get from that drain. When CN just decides that they’re not going to pay and hold up the whole process in the system, it causes a backlog. 

That’s an issue that AMO (the Association of Municipalities of Ontario) and other organizations have identified.”

He said by not paying for completed projects, CN is withholding millions of much-needed dollars from helping develop rural Ontario municipalities.

Health experts worry about avian influenza

While the North American poultry industry is engaged in a battle to eliminate highly-pathogenic avian influenza by sacrificing infected flocks and imposing quarantine zones, scientists attending a World Health Organization conference are worried this flu could evolve into a strain deadly to people.

The group of scientists, regulators and vaccine manufacturers meets twice a year to decide which strain of seasonal flu to include in the vaccine for the upcoming winter season, in this case for the Northern Hemisphere.

But it is also a chance to discuss the risk of animal viruses spilling over to humans and causing a pandemic. At this week’s meeting, H5N1 clade was a key topic, the World Health Organization (WHO) and global flu experts told Reuters. News agency. 

“We are more prepared (than for COVID), but even if we are more prepared, we are not yet prepared enough,” Sylvie Briand, WHO director of global infectious hazard preparedness, said ahead of the meeting. “We need to really continue the efforts for a flu pandemic.”

Experts have been tracking H5N1 clade since it emerged in 2020, but recent reports of mass deaths in infected mammals from seals to bears, as well as potential mammal-to-mammal transmission on a Spanish mink farm last year, have raised concern.

However, there have been very few human cases, and the WHO currently assesses the threat to humans as low.

“This is a natural experiment playing out in front of us, and I don’t think we are complacent,” said Nicola Lewis, director of the WHO Collaborating Centre on Influenza at the Crick Institute in London. Speaking before the meeting, she said it would include assessments of the situation worldwide.

Experts also discussed potential vaccine development.

WHO-affiliated labs already hold two flu virus strains that are closely related to the circulating H5N1 virus, which could be used by vaccine manufacturers to create a human vaccine if needed. 

Labs around the world are currently testing how closely both subtypes match the strain spreading among animals to determine whether any more updates are necessary.

Animal activists win court case

Animal rights activists who were charged under a new North Carolina law for taking undercover videos in a meat-packing plant have successfully defended themselves in court.

A federal appeals court said the companies can charge intruders with trespass, with stealing company data or interfering with private property, but said the law erred by infringing on freedom of expression.

The law was passed over the objections of Pat McCrory, the state governor at the time.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said the court decision is “a major victory for investigators and whistleblowers.”

Ontario passed legislation aimed at keeping animal activists from entering barns to videotape animals and poultry. It has yet to be tested in court.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Farming could help fight climate change

Canadian farming could make significant contributions to reducing carbon in the atmosphere, helping in the pursuit of an end to global warming, says a new report backed by the Consulting Group’s Centre for Canada’s Future, the Royal Bank of Canada and The University of Guelph’s Arrell Food Institute.

But it will take government subsidies which in Canada are lagging other nations also meaning our farmers are left at a competitive disadvantage in global markets.

Agriculture currently generates only one per cent of carbon credits globally while accounting for 18 per cent of global global greenhouse gas emissions, the report says.

What’s needed are subsidies for farming practices that sequester carbon and a market for trading carbon credits, the authors said.

For carbon trading to work, there needs to be a tool to measure farming’s contributions to carbon sequestration and an independent third party to verity and report the data.

As for subsidies, the report says some could come from companies that buy produce from farmers. They could advertise their wares as environmentally sustainable and be able to charge consumers more.


But only 10 per cent of consumers are likely to pay the higher prices for sustainable farming practices, albeit 25 per cent of agri-business companies said they are willing to participate.

Government subsidies would need to be the main driver, but in Canada climate-related funding is less than half of one per cent of total farm receipts which are $63 billion per year. That compares with 1.8 per cent of total farm receipts of $669 billion in the European Union and 1.7 per cent of $545 billion in the United States.

The report notes that the federal government has called for consultations on a sustainable agriculture policy. 

This should provide decisive targets on emissions reductions across the spectrum of farming activities and clear direction on what qualifies as a sustainable agriculture practice,” the report said.

The policy should define how Canada and the provinces can best value, manage, and improve their soil for the next 15 years through clearly-defined soil health targets and MRVs (measurement,  reporting and verification).


It says the policy should launch demonstration-scale programs through public-private initiatives that can determine how to lower the cost of MRVs and soil sampling. 

And it should assist farmers with the upfront costs of soil sampling which would offset the financial risks of transitioning to sustainable farming. 

The report calls for a national soil data-sharing program, made easily accessible to farmers, which would identify what practices work best in each province and region. 

This could be part of the provincial Environment Farm Plan programs helping to develop local schemes to keep agricultural soil sustainable.

As examples of what Canadian governments could do to help farmers, it suggests discounts for crop insurance premiums when farmers start planting cover crops which typically lower yields for a few years.

There could be tax breaks, such as accelerated depreciation for adopting costly technologies.

And the governments could establish a fund to purchase carbon credits which would be an incentive for farmers to participate.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Olymel lost $145 million

Olymel lost $145 million last year, up from $75 million the previous year and it spread red ink into its owner, Sollio Cooperative Group (formerly Cooperative Federee du Quebec).

Sollio lost $248 million on revenues of $7.9 billion.

In 2018 Sollio bought Cargill’s grain operations in Ontario, then sold six elevators in 2022.

Olymel is pressuring the Quebec hog producers’ marketing board to reduce production because it is having difficulty getting enough workers to staff its hog-slaughering plants.

It has stopped buying from Ontario producers and has asked Quebec to cut back by 850,000 market hogs this year.

The marketing board has proposed a cut to apply to all production, but Olymel countered that it can’t afford to run its large hog farms at less than capacity.

Leavitt wins stewardship award

Lynn Leavitt of Leavitt’s Black Angus Beef is this year’s winner of the Environmental Stewardship Award from Beef Farmers of Ontario.

He developed a compactor for used plastics and now the U-Pac AgriServices recycles farm plastics across the province.

The farm is in Prince Edward County and has 200 acres, 175 of them for pasturing the herd. The family farm buys hay from another 100 acres.

U-Pac has gathered about 225,000 pounds of scrap bale wrap and has taken it to a recycle plant.

The compactors, as well as blueprints for the compactors are available to farmers across the province.Leavitt’s Black Angus Beef was also awarded the Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation for their work on farm plastic recycling and re-purposing, as well as the 2022 Don Hill Legacy Award, recognizing creative and innovative solutions to environmental challenges faced on farm.

Fire destroys pig barn

 The family, neighbours and friends rescued all but a few piglets when fire broke out in a pig barn near Alliston. Damage is estimated at more than $500,000.

“Prior to our arrival, the neighbours and the family had done an excellent job of clearing the barn. There were cattle under the adjacent barn as well, so they cleared all of the animals out, pretty much, prior to us getting there,” said Brooke fire chief Steve Knight.

Brooke Fire Rescue, along with crews from Watford and Oil Springs, responded to the emergency on Sunday.

“It’s difficult (to determine the cause) with the amount of damage that was done while we were putting the fire out, to determine it. So, there’s a possibility of an electrical fire but it’s undetermined,” said Knight. 

Knight said the community that was involved did an amazing job.

“The family and friends and the landowner were just incredible and they all came together to help out.”



Thursday, February 23, 2023

Milk labeling clarified in U.S.

The United States Food and Drug Administration has issued new regulations forcing manufacturers of plant-based “milk” products to provide nutrition information on product labels.

It was welcomed by the National Milk Producers Federation, but it said this does not go far enough.

It wants politicians to pass a DAIRY PRIDE act that would ban the use of dairy terms such as milk, butter and cheese to describe plant-based products.

The federation said that “by acknowledging both the utter lack of nutritional standards prevalent in plant-based beverages and the confusion over nutritional value that’s prevailed in the marketplace because of the unlawful use of dairy terms, FDA’s proposed guidance today will provide greater transparency that’s sorely needed for consumers to make informed choices.

But it said FDA has failed to enforce its regulations in the past and so it is using circular reasoning to allow the industry to continue using dairy-industry names for its plant-based products.

We reject the agency’s circular logic that FDA’s past labeling enforcement inaction now justifies labeling such beverages “milk” by designating a common and usual name. Past inaction is poor precedent to justify present and future inaction, the federation said.

Farmer-owned pork packers merge

Wholestone Farms of Fremont, Nebraska, and the Prestage Farms Inc. of North and South Carolina have formed the joint venture Prestage Wholestone, LLC.

The combined company has capacity to slaughter 21,000 hogs per day.

Wholestone is owned by more than 200 farming families. Prestage is owned by the Prestage family.

“We are excited and honored to partner with the Prestage family,” Wholestone Farms said chairman Luke Minion. 

Ron Prestage said his company is excited to partner with like-minded American producers “who reflect our collective core values from farm to market.”

Prestage Wholestone will start joint operations no later than January 1, 2024.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Weston family funds soil health projects

The Weston Family Foundation said it is supporting eight soil health projects with  $10 million.

The announcement comes in the midst of public complaints that the Weston family is raking in record profits while shoppers at its Loblaws, Zehrs and related supermarkets are hard hit by rising food prices.

The foundation put the $10 million up for grabs last spring and got 38 applications which a review team that included farmers whittled down to 16.

In today's climate, $10 million is a public relations bargain.

The eight that were chosen are:

-       = digital soil mapping tools for better nitrogen management

-     -  =a farmer-led peer network,

-       = a reverse auction model to incentivize small grain and cover crop acres

-       = research into cover crop best practices,

-       = benchmarking soil in Ontario’s Greenbelt

-       = soil health outreach

-      =  a registry to help underpin markets for ecosystem service credits and

-       = Indigenous-led education for managing First Nations farmland.

“There’s a lot of complexity in soil health and in rebuilding healthy, fertile soil, so there’s lots of ways of going at it. But we wanted to find projects that would help promote beneficial management practices, not just to the individuals involved, but hopefully communicate it out into the wider farming community,” said Eliza Mitchell, chair of the foundation’s conservation committee. 

Port Colbourne grain elevator sold

London Agricultural Commodities has bought the grain terminal at Port Colbourne from Ceres Global Ag of Minneapolis which bought it in 2010 from Horizon Milling (now Ardent Mills).

Ceres converted it from storage to a grain terminal which London Agricultural Commodities has been leasing.

It paid $5.42 million.

The terminal was built as a Robin Hood flour mill, but closed in 2008.

In January the federal government announced that it and St. Lawrence Seaway Management will spend $45.3 million on three wharf sites at Port Colborne.

Port Colborne is at the end of the Welland Canal between lakes Erie and Ontario. 

The federal government, which put up $22.7 million for that project under the National Trade Corridors Fund, said the project will help relieve “supply chain congestion” in the region.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Food inflation still roaring

Food prices are 11.4 per cent higher now than a year ago, reports Statistics Canada.

But overall inflation dipped to 5.9 per cent which is better than most economists’ predictions of 6.2 per cent.

Fresh and frozen chicken was especially pricey, rising nine per cent from December — an increase that Statistics Canada attributed to seasonal demand, supply issues and the impacts of highly-pathogenic avian influenza that has prompted scores of entire-flock euthanasia and quarantine zones, especially in the lower Fraser Valley area of British Columbia.

The cost of dining out also rose at a faster pace as fast food and takeout became more expensive.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Huge fondue recall in Quebec

Testing by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency found Listeria monocytogenes food-poisoning bacteria at 1001 Fondues located in Quebec city.

The CFIA has ordered recalls for a number of the family-owned company’s products, yet said there have been no reports of anyone falling ill after eating its products.

The recall includes 25 lots of La Fondue au Village with best before dates ranging from Feb. 14 to May 6.

Maple Dale recalling cheddar

Maple Dale Cheese Co. discovered Listeria monocytogenes in its one-year-old cheddar and has issued a recall.

There have been no reports of anyone falling ill.

Maple Dale is located between Belleville and Tweed.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

CFIA tightens feed import regs

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is tightening regulations on the importation of feeds and feed additives.

The changes are designed to prevent African Swine Fever from entering Canada. An outbreak here would be devastating for hog producers and pork processors because they would lose at least half of their export markets, and perhaps all if importing nations refuse to accept that Canada can be divided into two zones with the division line between Ontario and Manitoba.

The CFIA has added a long list of countries from which feeds and feed ingredients are banned including Belgium, Bhutan, Cambodia, the Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Germany, Greece, Haiti, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Republic of Korea, North Macedonia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Thailand and Timor-Leste.

The CFIA is cautioning farmers to buy feed only from reputable suppliers and warning feed millers and retailers to be cautious about feeds and ingredients they import and it is their responsibility to be sure they are safe.

Loblaws recalls PC cheddar cheese


Loblaws has issued a nation-wide recall for its President’s Choice cheddar cheese sold in 250-gram packages.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency identified Listeria monocytogenes food-poisoning bacteria and triggered the recall.

The CFIA said there have been no reports of illness linked to consuming the cheese.

The packages are marked best before Aug. 24.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

NFU filming 40 farmers

The federal government is offering up to $243,726 worth of backing for the National Farmers Union to have a film made about 40 farmers deemed to be sustainable.

The project will be run by documentary filmmakers, Tamer Soliman and Sarah Douglas, of March Forth Creative Inc. 

They will call it Depth of Field: Films About Farming.

The 40 short documentaries will be online and will be shared at local screenings arranged in collaboration with other farmer organizations this fall and next winter.

Depth of Field will connect Canadians with a diversity of farmers who are playing a key role in the solution to the climate crisis, highlighting their sustainable initiatives. 

Depth of Field will give Canadians an opportunity to learn about agriculture in Canada from the farmers, farm workers, producers and land stewards themselves. 

“In the face of climate change, our farmers are taking action to ensure their production processes are increasingly more sustainable. 

Organizations like NFU that showcase the sector’s leadership in sustainability are helping to build public trust in Canada’s food system,” said federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau.

In November 2021 Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial agriculture ministers said they want to foster awareness of farmers’ commitment to the sustainable production of safe, high-quality food and building public trust…” 

Depth of Field will feature farmers' stories told directly, honestly, and with a focus on their sustainable practices. 

Those who are interested in hosting a community screening should contact NFU communications and project manager Nasseem Hakimian. 

More information is online at https://www.nfu.ca/filmsaboutfarming/

Vegan Trudeau may scrap dairy quotas

 Damian Morais has written an opinion piece suggesting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may scrap dairy quotas in the wake of a video about dumping over-quota milk that went viral.

He also noted that Trudeau is a vegan.

His piece, which has been posted on eDairyNews, said in part:

“Trudeau’s personal preference for veganism may possibly be a factor in the quota system’s continued existence. We have already seen how Trudeau’s genuine ambition to emerge as a progressive leader of the world has made the lives of impoverished Canadian farmers miserable.

“However, change is the only constant. The current system must be replaced because it is not providing significant results. There are numerous remedies offered by various professionals. 

"First and foremost, Canada must make milk dumping illegal. Farmers will be encouraged to adapt as a result of this policy change. Dumping is the simplest option right now. By making it illegal, marketing boards would be forced to find a market for the surplus.

“Second, the CDC should establish a strategic reserve for powdered milk or milk. Most Canadians are unaware that they have a strategic stockpile of almost 85,000 kilos of butter. A buffer like this could aid between processing and shipment to international markets.

“Furthermore, the country needs processing plants. Canada dairy producers had long contended that they couldn’t send Canadian milk abroad, until China decided to build its own Canadian Royal Milk plant in Kingston, Ont. That’s correct, Ontario dairy farmers supply to this Chinese-owned business, which manufactures instant formula and ships it all to China. Canadians are undoubtedly capable of doing so.

“The dairy business of Canada already has a bad reputation due to rising pricing, and this dumping scandal would certainly exacerbate that. If they do not innovate, someone else will, and it may not be to their liking.”

As crazy as his ideas may seem, in federal politics crafted by youngsters In the prime minister's office in Ottawa, I worry that anything is possible.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Canada grants patent for plant protein



Steakholder Foods Ltd., a cultivated meat company based in Rehovot, Israel, received approval in Canada for its patent on Physical Manipulation of Cultured Muscle Tissue.

This process already had patent approvals from the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

It relates to systems and methods for applying external forces to muscle tissue.

Low ice levels on Great Lakes

Ice levels are at historic lows on the Great Lakes, meaning there could be an early spring and that snowfalls will be closer to the Lake Huron shoreline than is usual at this time of the year.

According to Great Lakes Ice Tracker there was just 7.5 per cent ice coverage on all lakes combined as of February 12, slightly below the all-time previous low of 8.5 per cent set in 2012, and well below the historic average of 41 per cent.

Lake Huron was only 26 per cent covered on February 4 compared to approximately 95 per cent ice coverage on the same day in 1994, and around 40 per cent ice coverage on the same day in 2016.

Without any ic, there is a better chance of warming up faster in April and May.

Fire kills 10,000 pigs

Fire destroyed a hog finishing barn Olymel owns near Sturgis, Sask., killing all of the approximately 10,000 pigs inside.

The east-central Saskatchewan community was a finishing barn, said Richard Vigneault, a company spokesperson. It was known as the Kopje barn.

“It’s very unfortunate,” he said.

“It’s a total loss. Fortunately all the staff is OK, but the animals all perished.”

Vigneault said the cause was unknown.

Olymel has a second barn and feed mill nearby that were not affected.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Alberta potato production surged

Alberta’s potato crop increased from 24.6 million hundredweight in 2021 to 26.8 million last year, vaulting it from third to top position in provincial potato production.

Prince Edward Island has perennially been in top spot, but last year its production declined from 27.2 to 26.6 million hundredweight.

Statistics Canada’s report released recently has Manitoba in third spot, New Brunswick and Quebec tied and Ontario sixth at 8.16 million hundredweight.

Ontario was sixth in 2022 at 8.16 million hundredweight, down from 8.95 million in 2021.

Civil service shakeup for CFIA and AAFC

Dr. Harpreet S. Kochhar will become president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on Feb. 27, taking over from Dr. Siddika Mithani who retired on Jan. 20.

Kochar comes to the CFIA from president of the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Heather Jeffrey, currently associate deputy minister of health, will move up to president.

Chris Forbes, deputy minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, is moving to the department of Environment and Climate Change and Stefanie Beck will be the new deputy at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. She is currently associate deputy minister of National Defence.

Milk producer petition circulating

Ann and John Van Dyk of Dunnville have launched a petition to end milk dumping by dairy farmers who do it to remain within marketing-board quota limits.

Earlier another Dunnville-area farmer, Jerry Huigen, made a video of dumping 30,000 litres of milk. The video went viral as people from around the world took a look and registered surprise and outrage that milk is being wasted.

“When a fellow farmer dumps 30,000 litres then that’s going to catch everyone’s attention,” John Van Dyk told CTV News. “It’s time to end this practice. There’s no need to have this practice.”

Even Sylvain Charlebois, a professor at Dalhousie University who has developed a huge audience for his commentaries on the Canadian food industry, said that “to see the practice is painful. Especially right now everyone’s hurting at the grocery store.”

“They make us dump it,” Huigen said in the video.“As a little boy, we grew up on a dairy farm, came from Europe, work, work, work and here we are this is what’s happening,” as the video shows milk pouring out of a drain pipe.

“There is no politician out there who’s going to support us on ‘oh yeah, it’s okay that you guys dump milk.’ No, it’s not,” said Van Dyk. “We can’t do this anymore.”

“Why don’t we as an industry grab this issue by the horns and change things?” Van Dyk said.

The issue of more milk than quota has been around ever since dairies in Ontario in the 1940s and '50s needed to limit the volume of milk they would buy to match their consumer demand. 

Then it became industry-wide practice for all milk when the Ontario Milk Marketing Board came to power in the 1960s.

It is unlikely that the board, now named Dairy Farmers of Ontario, will abandon its quota system to limit production and marketing from dairy farms.





Friday, February 10, 2023

Next Generation Pork Producers making progress

A new committee formed to find ways to increase hog-slaughter and pork-processing capacity in Ontario has held several meetings and is aiming to have a report ready by spring.

Blair Cressman, marketing division manager for Ontario Pork, said it’s been a desire for years, but the need continues to increase. While Quebec is drastically cutting hog production and the U.S. is forecast to produce fewer market hogs this year than last, Ontario production continues a slow and steady increase.

But there are about 24 per cent more market hogs than slaughter capacity in Ontario and tens of thousands of weaner pigs are being exported to the United States while they could be raised to market weight in Ontario were there enough slaughter capacity to support attractive pricing.

Producers are being invited to pledge support of $5 per hog by Feb. 22.

“Poop or get off the can,” laughed Cressman in winding up an address to about 100 people attending a producer meeting recently at Elora.

He said Ontario hogs are now going to the Maple Leaf Foods Inc. plant at Brandon, Man., and in the United States to Tyson at Loganport, Indiana, Clemens Food Group in Michigan and Hatfield, Pa., Leidy’ Premium Meats at Souderton, Pa., JBS at Louisville, Ky., J.H. Routh at Sandusky, Ohio, Rantoul Foods at Rantoul, Illinois, and others as far away as North Carolina.

He said the spike in diesel fuel prices last March also cut into returns on these exported hogs.

Cressman said there are examples of hog-slaughtering plants being successfully launched by hog producers, but they need to be prepared for a difficult start-up period.

He said Conestoga Meat Packers, now one of the two plants that dominate the Ontario market, had three difficult startup years. Now it has bought land adjacent to the plant east of Breslau and may soon be planning another expansion.

It has also been a pioneer in technology for high-quality pork, such as being the first to test pork fat for iodine content.

Pork fat with a moderate or low score for iodine content is firmer and that’s a highly desirable trait for buyers such as the Japanese. Conestoga pays a premium for hogs whose fat has an acceptably low iodine score.

The company is also taking a close look at equipment from Frontmatec of Germany which makes whole-hog images of a carcass, slice by slim slice, much like an MRI. It enables the packing company to identify the parts of the carcass that will meet clients’ discriminating desires.

It would also inform Conestoga members which of their hogs are the most valuable so they can adjust genetics and management.

For example, iodine scores can be improved by eliminating whole roasted soybeans or dried distiller’s grains from rations for five weeks before slaughter.





Pork producers meeting again

About 100 pork producers gathered in Elora for one of the first meetings under Ontario Pork’s new zoning system that incorporated Waterloo, Wellington, Dufferin, Simcoe, York, Grey and Bruce municipalities.

The re-organization means there will be five directors elected to represent the new zones and four elected at large. They will serve three-year terms.

Director Arno Schober informed them that their numbers declined by 57 to 997 last year, but only those who deliver market hogs are counted. Those specializing in marketing weaners are not included.

The business was “largely profitable” last year “but we are struggling now,” he said.

Market analyst Kevin Grier said he expects hog prices to remain at, or a bit below, last year’s levels this year. He said demand proved to be much stronger than he anticipated a year ago when he predicted prices would average about $87, but actually averaged $98.

He said it’s difficult to know whether demand will remain strong this year in the face of inflation hitting household budgets. Demand increase is a technical term meaning consumers will buy more even if prices have increased; a decline in demand is when they buy less even when prices decline.

Exports increased by 7.8 per cent and 68 per cent of that pork went to the United States, eight per cent to Japan and Mexico is becoming a more important market, especially for hams, Schober said.

Director Eric Schwindt reported on progress a new committee on emergency preparedness is making, planning how to cope if there’s an outbreak of African Swine Fever that stops exporting.

Some of the planning involves having a strong argument that only one half of Canada would need to face a ban, another part to line up financial supports for producers and packers and a host of other challenges.

Frank Wood and Laura Eastwood, swine specialist based in Stratford’s office for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs outlined the importance of preparing a plan to deal with an emergency, such as an outbreak of African Swine Fever or a barn fire. Six students were hired to help large-scale producers prepare plans last year and more will be hired to continue this assistance for others this year.

The plans need to be comprehensive and detailed. For example, there should be a site plan that identifies the location of buildings, of hogs of various ages and their locations within the barn, the location and type of neighbours (eg. school or seniors residence), a plan for disposing of deadstock such as composting, which is the preferred method, or burial. 

If it’s burial, the property needs to be evaluated to keep the site away from streams, drainage ditches and tiles, wells and wetlands. 

The plan needs to be accessible for those involved in handling an emergency, such as fire fighters or Canadian Food Inspection Agency officials. Electronic plans can be filed with Ontario Pork.

So far emergency preparedness plans have been prepared for about a third of Ontario’s hog producers who account for close to half of the provincial production.

Olymel hits a wall

Kevin Grier
Blair Cressman

Olymel is in such dire pork-slaugther straits that hog production in Quebec and Ontario is in turmoil.

Olymel has told the Quebec pork marketing board that it needs to cut hog purchases by 10 to 25 per cent.

This after it announced in October, 2021, that it would cut annual purchases by 530,000 hogs, last October by another 250,000 and as of Feb. 23 a planned cut of 885,000 hogs.

“I don’t think this is a negotiating ploy,” market analyst Kevin Grier told a gathering of about 100 Ontario pork producers and industry participants at a meeting recently at Elora.

It is leaving Ontario looking for a new home for hogs that have been going to one of Olymel’s four plants in Quebec. It has another at Red Deer, Alta.

Ontario packers buy about 90,000 to 100,000 hogs from Ontario producers every week, but they are producing about 125,000 a week.


Before the planned Feb. 23 cut, Ontario has been sending about 10,000 hogs a week to Quebec, some of them to du Breton which is also cutting back and focusing on organic and “all natural” pork.

Under normal conditions, Grier said exports to the U.S. and Manitoba were zero. As of now, about 20,000 a week are going to U.S. plants and another 6,000 are going to the Maple Leaf Foods plant at Brandon, Man.

It has been a logistical challenge, the Ontario producers were told.

“None of this is sustainable. It’s just a mess,” said Grier.

But Quebec is in worse shape because it hasn’t got enough trucks and infrastructure to get into moving market hogs out of the province.

Its producers have, instead, been ramping up exports of weaner pigs.

Ontario has been sending about 60 per cent of its processed pork exports to the United States, but that doesn’t count substantial exports of weaner pigs.

Grier said Ontario is in a good competitive position to increase pork production, but there has been a long-standing reluctance by pork packers to build new plants here.

Conestoga Meat Packers, which is owned by farmers, has been a remarkable success story and now processes about 8,000 hogs a day. 

Sofina’s plant at Burlington takes up to 9,000 a week and both can take more if and when they add a Saturday shift, Grier said.

Blair Cressman, marketing division manager for Ontario Pork, said Conestoga Meats recently purchased land adjoining its plant east of Breslau. That’s a signal it might be planning an expansion, but no plans have been floated.

Domingo’s is another farmer-owned pork packing plant that is taking up to 9,000 hogs a week.

In Quebec, Olymel and the pork board are at a negotiating stand-off. The farmers took a cut of $40 a hog during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the two can’t agree on a new discount amount. The provincial body that supervises marketing board has become involved in trying to negotiate a new deal.

A significant challenge is a severe lack of workers for Olymel’s packing plants. Part of the deficit has been filled with temporary foreign workers, but far from enough to run the plants at capacity.

Hog packing has also been a money-losing business for more than a year, Grier said. The industry’s profits are notoriously cyclical.

The Quebec pork board has called for a 20 per cent across-the-board production cut, but Grier said that’s not acceptable to Olymel which has a significant investment in large-scale hog production and has converted housing to meet wholesale customers’ demands for crate-free facilities.

Those barns need to be run at or very close to capacity to be sustainable.


That leaves independent producers to scale back production. Some are only viable because of a provincial government price support program (ASRA) and if that support is reduced, he estimates half of the hog farms would close.

Few of the independent producers have invested in converting to housing without crates for gestating sows and they could soon find there are no packing plants willing to buy their hogs, he said. They may either decide, or be forced, to quit.

Nor is Quebec hog production, as a whole, as competitive as Ontario because it depends on purchased feeds, much of it from out of province, whereas Ontario is competitive because feed is either grown on farm or purchased locally.

That is also a precautionary note for Ontario hog producers because they could find "there are no shackles for their hogs," Grier said.

Grier said another threat remains trade action by the United States. Federal politicians in Washington are again threatening to legislate retail pork labelling to reveal whether it’s from hogs or pork brought in from Canada.

From past experience, that would depress the price for Canadian hogs to compensate for the costs and challenges involved in separating slaughter, processing and packaging to comply with the Country Of Origin labeling requirements.

Canada has won disputes-settling challenges to previous U.S. Country of Origin Labeling requirements, but not until after losing billions in depressed prices and tens of millions to hire lawyers and consultants to argue the Canadian case to the disputes-settling panels.