Alberta pork industry sees market price drop amid COVID-19

No matter the industry, COVID-19 is having an impact, but when it comes to not only your livelihood but animal welfare, the urgency is even greater.

Hog producers are desperate for help dealing with a volatile market and uncertain times.

“Within a week, it would be absolutely devastating what would happen to the industry.”

He’s been in the industry for 30 years and said the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening this sector like nothing he’s witnessed before.

Pig operations typically see the animal stay in one facility from birth to slaughter — unlike other industries such as cattle, where feedlots are used.

“We produce hogs every week,” said Beusekom. “Every week we have births, they grow and go through all the stages, and every week we ship finished hogs out the door.”

He said there are approximately 200 producers in Alberta, producing approximately three million finished hogs per year. His concern is with that many producers in just one province, if a slaughter plant closes, there will be a major backlog of hogs.

“We might be able to hold back for one week, possibly two weeks if we crowded them up a little bit, but there are new ones coming all the time.

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“Every week we have new ones coming so we can’t not ship,” said Beusekom.

Darcy Fitzgerald with Alberta Pork said the situation could become dire if plants close and producers have to keep their numbers down to ensure animal welfare can be maintained.

“We’re not there yet, believe me, we are doing everything we can and hopefully, we don’t get there. But at the end of the day, if you can’t get those pigs through the system, and a producer can’t feed them, they have to be euthanized.”

Gary Stordy with the Canadian Pork Council said plants across the country are seeing a slowdown in production, causing the price of hogs to plummet nearly 50 per cent.

“We are at a point where producers are actually paying to take care of their animals and their feed and really getting less than what they put into it.

“It’s an unfeasible situation for them and it’s creating a cash crisis.”

Stordy said part of the plant slowdown is due to facilities implementing safety measures for workers.

“That’s preventative measures where they’re staggering shifts, slowing down the line speed or how fast the process is, increasing the amount of space between people as well ensuring common areas, whether kitchens or other common areas, changing rooms, they’re providing additional space,” said Strody.

“All this has resulted in a slowdown in a relatively efficient system, within good reason, it is a necessary step in order to ensure these plants remain operational and provide a safe environment for employees.”

The drop is prompting producers to ask the government for emergency cash support to help make up the difference.

“That would just help people keep their feed bills paid, their employees, truckers, veterinary costs, just our day-to-day running costs. It’s going to get ugly in a hurry, very ugly,” Beusekom.

Beusekom said he is losing roughly $48 per pig and would like to see the government step up and cover the loss for the next six months.

Alberta Pork is asking the provincial government to step in and help keep pork producers afloat during the unknown time.

“We just need to make sure we have farmers, pork producers, grain farmers beef producers still in business so that when we get through this, we have a food supply.”

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