Hog funds seen as trade-neutral

U.S. pork producers shouldn’t have any quarrel with the Canadian government’s recently announced funding package for hog farmers, according to the chairman of the Manitoba Pork Council.

Speaking Tuesday on the program Farmscape, Karl Kynoch said the package announced Saturday by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz is “nothing different than is actually being offered to the producers in the U.S.”

Ritz’s announcement pledged $75 million to fund hog farmers looking to get out of the industry, another $17 million for market and export development work, and loan guarantees for hog farmers seeking to stay in the business and finance the restructuring of their operations.

“Most of the money has been offered in some sort of form of loans, just backing up at the banks a little bit, so basically everything that comes out of there will have to be paid back by producers,” Kynoch told Farmscape, a program sponsored by the MPC and its Saskatchewan counterpart, Sask Pork.

“The other part of it, which I would imagine our American counterparts will be very happy with, but there’s another $75 million been offered to help some producers exit the industry and actually close down their barns,” said Kynoch, who farms at Baldur, about 100 km southeast of Brandon.

Previously, he noted, hog farmers were offered a program that paid farmers to cull breeding sows. This time, however, the funding is “being offered to the weanling barns, the feeder barns and the sow barns, so it’s being offered to the industry as a whole, and that should be very positive with our U.S. counterparts.”

The main U.S. hog farmers’ group, the National Pork Producers Council, warned last month it would consider all options if Ottawa provided Canadian hog farmers with bailouts.

But U.S. ag journal The Progressive Farmer said on its website Monday that NPPC officials were now “not as critical” of Ritz’s plans as they had been before Saturday.

The NPPC on Monday called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture for US$250 million in financial assistance, including an increased uptake of U.S. pork for federal food programs, increased swine disease surveillance and “industry support” to deal with fallout from the outbreak of pandemic H1N1 virus, dubbed “swine flu” by major media outlets.

“A sell-out”

Criticism of Ritz’s announcement Saturday in Winnipeg came instead from the home front, where federal Liberal agriculture critic Wayne Easter called the plan an abandonment of Canada’s hog farmers.

“After months of (producers) pleading for help, with a $3.2 billion sector at stake, the Harper government announced a loan program that only the most viable operations would consider, and a small amount of money to exit farmers out of the sector,” Easter said in an op-ed piece released Tuesday.

Easter said the planned funding is “a pittance designed to show action but achieve little” and “will add more debt to already indebted farmers and provide a backstop for bankers, not farmers.”

The Prince Edward Island MP warned that as farmers exit an “integrated” hog market, U.S. hog farmers “will simply boost their production to offset any cuts made by Canadians. In essence, the Conservative government is handing over Canada’s hog sector to our southern neighbours. This is a sell-out, not a buyout.”

Kynoch told Farmscape’s Bruce Cochrane that although details haven’t yet been announced, Ritz’s pledge gives farmers an indication of what will be available to them.

The MPC chairman said he expects further details to be announced next month.

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