Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Provincial ban blamed for hog shortage

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Short 20,000 hogs per month, Maple Leaf has reduced the number of employees who work in Brandon from a potential peak capacity of 2,300 to 1,900, said plant manager Morgan Curran-Blaney.

Speaking to producers at the Keystone Agricultural Producers' general council meeting, Curran-Blaney said finding a solution to the hog moratorium in Manitoba is paramount to the industry's success over the long term.

When asked if Maple Leaf could pay more to attract more hogs, Curran-Blaney said that solution wouldn't deal with the root problem -- not enough supply.

"There is a shortage of pigs, there just isn't enough and you end up stealing from someone else,"àCurran-Blaney said.

The shortage has had a ripple effect right through the province, as de-boning plants in Winnipeg have slowed down operations because they rely on hogs from Brandon.

In 2011, the provincial government passed legislation that impedes growth, enforcing a provincewide ban on new hog-barn developments unless they're equipped with an anaerobic digestion system to treat the manure.

The costly technology has basically capped the industry at its current state.

As infrastructure continues to age, the number of hogs in Manitoba could decline further.

A report prepared by Janet Honey for the department of agribusiness and agricultural economics at the University of Manitoba said the number of producers in the province has fallen significantly since 2005.

In 2005, there were almost 1,300 pig farms in the province, but that number has steadily declined to 575 farms in 2012.

Despite fewer farms, the number of hogs per farm has more than doubled, meaning the total number of hogs on farms has decreased marginally since 2007.

Curran-Blaney said the second shift at the plant has been slowed to about 50 per cent capacity through attrition of employees.

However, even if the company can somehow manage to bring 20,000 more hogs per month to the slaughter floor, it will run into another problem -- finding workers.

Currently the plant loses approximately 40 employees per week and is able to fill only 12 of those spots domestically. Maple Leaf relies on foreign workers to make up the difference; however, changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program could squeeze the company.

New legislation states no more than 10 per cent of an employer's workforce can be made up of temporary foreign workers.

"Right now, eight per cent of our workforce is considered temporary foreign workers and are working toward their Canadian citizenship,"àCurran-Blaney said.

While 75 per cent of the company is made up of former immigrants, Curran-Blaney said many have already received their citizenship.

If the plant did need a sudden influx of workers, the new rules would create problems as recruiting from other countries would pick up.


-- Brandon Sun

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 12, 2014 B10

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