Behind the Lines
Pork producers are as good with numbers as any group in agriculture, but a growing number of scientists are arguing that the commonly used parameters that point towards an operation’s financial success aren’t taking into account a growing concern – lameness in sows.
Lameness may make sows less likely to eat and thus keep up their body condition during gestation. “Maybe their lameness predisposed them to losing weight and body condition,” and therefore reproductive failure and culling, postulates University of Manitoba professor Laurie Connor. “It’s all linked together.”
When Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the world, announced in late May that it was being purchased by a Chinese-based conglomerate with a name most couldn’t pronounce, some people in the industry were gob-smacked. What did it mean? Would the U.S. government allow the sale to take place? Would a large amount of American-produced pork be sucked away to a market across the Pacific, opening up demand here?
There’s a bit of a local theme to this month’s issue, focusing on catering to consumers’ growing desire to get food that is produced locally and that also meets the high quality standards expected in this country.
“It’s great to have something that people want,” says Roger Harley, operator of Harley Farms in Peterborough County. Producers who feel the squeeze from imports from the United States and markets overseas that are hard to crack are bound to agree. Whether you are a committed “commodity” pork producer or a niche producer (or you want to be), this month’s cover story will be of interest.
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.
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.
© AgMedia Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.