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Manitoba weanlings survive contract crisis: MPC

(Resource News International) — Despite speculation that hundreds of thousands of Manitoba weanling pigs would be euthanized over the spring and summer due to a crisis in the hog industry, an official with Manitoba Pork Council said relatively few piglets have been put down.

The speculation had been triggered by reports in the early spring that U.S. buyers were cancelling their contracts to purchase weanlings from Manitoba producers. Buyers said they were concerned they would no longer be able to sell finished Canadian pigs to U.S. processing plants ahead of the implementation of country-of-origin-labelling in the U.S.

The news was particularly disturbing for Manitoba producers, who sell more weanling pigs into the U.S. than any other Canadian province, up to 80,000 a week.

“A couple of months ago there was a lot of excitement and there was a lot of talk about doing this or that, but in the end Manitoba producers seem to have been able to find homes for nearly all of their weanlings and as far as I know, there was no mass euthanization of animals,” said Andrew Dickson, general manager of the Manitoba Pork Council in Winnipeg.

In the past months, small batches were euthanized but the amount was far below some of the original forecasts that had been bandied about, including estimates of 25,000 per week.

There are a number of reasons why producers changed their minds, Dickson said. In the end, some farmers were able to find homes for their weanlings despite receiving only minimal payment for them.

Other producers were reportedly dissuaded by the costs involved with the euthanization and safe disposal of the animals.

Weanling cull funds wanted

There had been calls in the spring from the Manitoba hog industry asking the provincial government to fund a weanling cull program similar to the breeding swine cull program funded by the federal government and offered by the Canadian Pork Council.

At the time, provincial Agriculture Minister Rosann Wowchuk said she wanted to see whether producers would take advantage of the federal sow cull program before setting up a similar program for weanlings.

A provincial program was never set up, however, leaving producers to bear the brunt of the cull costs.

“A lot of (producers) thought that if they were only going
to be getting $5 per animal that they might as well euthanize them but then they started looking into the whole thing, in terms of cost of disposal and so on, and it made sense to take the $5 and ship the pigs,” Dickson explained.

A degree of cautious optimism among farmers about future hog prices and feed costs also likely changed some producers’ minds.

“For January delivery to Maple Leaf’s Brandon plant you’re looking at $140 to $150 per pig. That compares to the spring when you maybe would have gotten $100 to $110. There has been about $30 added to the value of an animal in the last three months,” Dickson said.

Also, U.S. corn prices have fallen back from recent record highs while feed supplies in general are expected to be more abundant, he added.

Other producers have chosen to raise their weanlings to a bigger weight and are hoping to get better returns that way due to the sow liquidation that occurred in the province.

According to Morgan Radford, technical issues analyst with the Canadian Pork Council, a total of 77 claims had been made in Manitoba under the federal breeding swine cull program, for a total of 18,429 breeding swine.

Dale McBurney, a weanling producer from the Souris, Man. area, said there is a glimmer of light at what has been a long, dark tunnel for hog farmers.

“If you look forward to the June futures price and you take into consideration how much feed costs have come down, we should be able to see a decent price for the weanlings by November or December.”

In the meantime, however, times are tough and McBurney continues to sell weanlings for $5 a head delivered into the U.S. whereas the average cost of production totals roughly $37 per animal.

He thought about holding onto his weanlings and raising them to bigger weights but there is a lot of cost involved with that and for his operation it was not financially feasible.

McBurney said he never considered killing his animals not only because of the potential costs involved but also because “you just kill your staff motivation,” he said.

“One of the reasons they work in the industry is that they like pigs and want to see them do well and I’m like that myself,” he continued.

Federal cull may fall short

Meanwhile, as of July 11 the Canadian Pork Council had received roughly five hundred applications from across Canada for funds available through the sow cull program, accounting for roughly 113,000 breeding swine. The CPC began accepting applications April 14.

Of the $50 million originally designated for the program by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, about $20 million is still available to help producers cover transportation, euthanasia and disposal costs.

Applications can still be sent in until Aug. 31 but Radford said the CPC may fall “just short” of its goal to cull 150,000 breeding swine, or roughly 10 per cent of Canada’s herd.

Under the program, producers receive $225 per breeding swine culled after April 14 and must depopulate an entire breeding barn and commit to not housing swine breeding stock in the same barn for three years.

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