Manitoba to pilot insurance program against hog disease risks

Pork council study backed with federal, provincial funds

Manitoba Pork Council chair George Matheson and federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announce funding for a two-year pilot insurance program for Manitoba hog producers. (Dave Bedard photo)

“Private sector solutions” to manage financial risks caused by disease outbreaks on hog farms are on the drawing board in a new Manitoba-led pilot project that could go nationwide.

Coming out of a Thursday morning meeting with hog producers in Winnipeg, federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced $482,158 from the AgriRisk Initiatives (ARI) arm of the federal/provincial Canadian Agricultural Partnership ag policy funding framework, for a two-year pilot spearheaded by the Manitoba Pork Council.

It’s hoped that with the funding, “we can develop some private sector solutions to mitigate the economic impact of diseases and market fluctuations,” council chair George Matheson said in the government’s release Thursday.

Such a risk management plan, the government said, would go help hog farms “recover from the devastation caused by potential outbreaks of diseases, such as porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED).”

Such a plan, the government said, could also include measures to help producers cover cleaning and disinfection costs “so the producer is able to recover as quickly as possible.”

The idea is “still at the early stages of development,” the government said in a release, but if successful, “we will ensure that the project results will have application to all pork producers in Canada,” Matheson said.

If expanded nationwide, the plan would run on the understanding that “the bigger the pool of participants, the more affordable it would be to individual producers.”

The idea follows the path taken by Canada’s provincial poultry and egg sectors, which Matheson said “has led the way in developing risk management tools for specific diseases that affect their sector” such as avian influenza.

If such insurance were already in place, Matheson said, its main benefit would be in response to future PED outbreaks. Had an affected producer been able to buy in, “it would have helped a great deal, of course, to mitigate the financial loss.”

Manitoba alone has reported 189 on-farm outbreaks of PED, mainly in its southeast, since the disease first arrived in the province in 2014.

As of Feb. 4, 148 of those properties are considered “presumptive negative” for PED, following cleaning and disinfection as well as further testing of the affected herds and surfaces in affected barns, according to the provincial ag department.

In its past outbreaks, Matheson said, the number of pigs lost to PED in the province “was getting close to five per cent” or 400,000 head.

Such a product would be meant to respond specifically to the needs of producers in an outbreak, Bibeau said. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency would cover some of the costs relating to animal losses but “there are a lot of other costs that the farmers would have to face.”

There’s no such insurance product of this kind right now in Manitoba “or, as far as we know, in any significant way, in North America, so it’d be a first,” Matheson said.

The study being funded is meant to create the model to develop such a product, Manitoba Pork general manager Andrew Dickson said. The model would determine the level of premiums and coverage available, “and then we can adjust it to what the market’s prepared to pay.”

The resulting risk management tool, Bibeau added, would need to be “both effective and affordable for producers.”

The idea is to have individual producers buy coverage tailored to their particular operations, Dickson added, but the pork council will also examine the idea of having a product it could buy on behalf of producers “if that’s what they want to do.”

Developers of the Canadian poultry and egg sectors’ insurance products will be helping the council develop its product for the pork sector, Dickson said. “We’re doing it in Manitoba because we need to model something, but the intent is to have it apply to the country as a whole.”

Bibeau and the Manitoba producers at Thursday’s meeting also discussed industry preparation against African swine fever “in case it ever occurs in this country,” Matheson said.

Bibeau noted CFIA has tightened the rules on the import of animal feed from ASF-infected countries, while the Canada Border Services Agency has moved to boost the number of detector dogs to cut the likelihood of illegal entry of pork products.

Federal, provincial and industry officials, she said, are conducting “extensive preparedness exercises to improve co-ordination and response.” — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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