As I’ve often opined, the fierce independence and competitive spirit of Ontario swine breeding stock producers has been both a strength and a fatal flaw. The strength has made for some exciting innovation and an ability to withstand severe adversity. It’s been fatal in the sense that genetic progress requires large numbers of animals and that tilts the game in favour of the largest players.
Behind the Lines
Canada’s pork industry has taken some major hits over the last few years; many of which have been chronicled in the pages of this magazine. Political and economic changes aside, the basis of pork production is largely how to use technology to produce pork as efficiently and competitively as possible. This month’s cover story, by Don Stoneman, outlines some of those new technologies that may be “game changers” in the long-term efforts to keep pork producers here competitive.
Early in 2012, the American pork industry, bruised by a federal ethanol policy that had driven the cost of feed to barely tolerable levels, turned towards a familiar target when times are tough – their counterparts north of the border.
That term “perfect storm,” a description of an event where rare circumstances combine to make a situation much worse, has been used to describe the pork industry far too many times in recent years. This year’s perfect storm is a drought that is driving up feed prices drastically, stretching farmers to their financial limits, at the same time as pork producers are coming face to face with strengthening demands from activists to change how they manage their gestating sows.
Why don’t more producers use futures contracts to defend their positions when they market pigs? It’s a question that we at Better Pork have heard asked any number of times. So this spring, as prices were trending downwards, Senior Staff Editor Don Stoneman set out to learn more. His report starts on page 6.
It was two years ago that Carol Mitchell, then Ontario’s agriculture minister, reviewed a decision of the Ontario Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal and ordered the Farm Products Marketing Commission to go ahead with plans to dismantle the exclusive powers of Ontario Pork, the provincial marketing board as of Dec. 1, 2010. This was done despite the trepidation of many producers, who feared that their collective marketing powers would be lost forever.
Two generations of the Stam family raising pork in Haldimand County exemplify how much of the province’s industry has chosen to deal with Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS).
At first, Tony and Vickie Stam thought they could live with it in their barns. But, gradually, PRRS’s effects became worse. Now they and partners nephew Kevin Stam and wife Christine are part of an effort to eliminate a disease that has become a scourge of the industry over more than a decade. Writer Mary Baxter tells the story of their successes and setbacks, starting on page 6.
This month’s cover story is based on research conducted by University of Guelph Ridgetown campus economists Randy Duffy and Ken
McEwan. Their study, financed by the Agricultural Management Institute and Ontario Pork, compares the financial fitness of Ontario’s swine industry to its counterparts in other jurisdictions.
After the ongoing and continuous production and financial crises of the last few years, one might bill this as the industry’s financial stock-taking. Some might consider it navel-gazing.
The pressure to set a definitive date for eliminating the use of sow gestation stalls is growing in the United States and now a campaign is being waged in next-door Manitoba. While there is no imminent threat that it will spill over into Ontario, farm leaders are bracing themselves. Coverage of this development here, by Senior Staff Editor Don Stoneman, begins on page 6.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is driving this issue and it has a branch in Canada. It appears that the HSUS even has the ear of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and, according to a report from Republican Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, it is involved in “preplanning” of an animal welfare symposium, ahead of the groups that represent livestock producers in the United States. David White, senior director, issues management, of the Ohio Farm Bureau and executive director of the Ohio Livestock Coalition who discussed HSUS activities at a swine seminar in Shakespeare in early November, confirmed the veracity of Moran’s allegations and that actions were being taken. “National farm and commodity organizations are voicing their apprehension to USDA about this and plan to meet with USDA officials to voice their concerns and request a modification of its original decision,” White told Better Pork’s editors in an e-mail.
One of the biggest interests pork producers always have is price. And economist Randy Duffy, our Second Look columnist this month, says nearly a year’s worth of data based on Ontario’s new price reporting information has allowed him to reach some conclusions about price equivalency with the United States. You can see Randy’s findings on our back page. BP
Leaner is better. That has been the swine breeders’ mantra for many decades. Commercial producers wanted lean pigs that grew fast and economically. Packers didn’t want fat that they had to throw away. Consumers wanted lean meat.
Canada has been a leader in this trend, selling its genetics to breeders in other countries around the world.
Those gains didn’t come without a cost. Consumers haven’t always been happy with the product they got. At least some of them want fat throughout the meat for flavour. This issue’s cover story is about the industry’s efforts to meet varying demands for different genetics using ultrasound technology that was not available a few years ago. The day when a farrowing barn operator can order semen to produce high or low marbling is here now. That story, by Don Stoneman, starts on page 12.
Our nutrition writer Janice Murphy continues to examine the role that spray-dried blood plasma in feed plays in the feeding of newly weaned pigs. There’s more evidence that points towards an enhanced immune function in stressed pigs. Her article starts on page 25.
In the first of a two-part series, veterinarian Ernest Sanford looks at external parasitic diseases that have largely been removed from the province’s pig herds. The writer says their elimination is a cause for celebration.
And our European writer, Norman Dunn warns that in Germany some highly productive herds are taking longer to farrow, throwing breeding schedules out of whack. It’s proof once again that, when it comes to genetics, not all gains are straightforward.
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