Saturday November 22, 2014

Looking into the pork industry future


The World Pork Expo in Des Moine, Iowa is, as you might expect is an event where the industry has a chance to crystal ball its future.

It is a chance to see what lies ahead for an agricultural sector which has been battered by low prices for too much of the last decade.

It was a decade here in Saskatchewan which took the hog industry from being the poster child of farm diversification, to one pretty much on life support.

The processing of pork has basically been moved out of Saskatchewan, and the largest producers ended up needing to restructure debt with those owed money getting far less than they would have wanted in order to buoy the barns.

It was actually interesting how the fate of the sector changed so quickly.

Hog productions looked like the perfect enterprise for Saskatchewan as a way to value-add to cereal grains which had long faced low prices made worth by the distance to ocean export position.

Things have stabilized a bit the last couple of years, but there are indications that prices may be back on their way back down, and that won’t be good news for the sector.

But prices are cyclical, and the sector knows that.

What is more interesting out of this year’s World Expo is a discussion taking place in the United States about the fate of individual sow stalls.

The stalls have become one of the main concerns for many consumer groups regarding how hogs are raised.

Those with a concern suggest the gestation stalls are far too limiting in their allowed movement for the sow.

The move is to group housing, with a number of producers already taking that step.

But there is a feeling it may become a legislated change, one pushed through government by consumer demand.

The issue though is whether the concern is one of perception the sow is better off in a loose housing situation, or not.

Having grown up a pig farm, in an era before farrowing crates were evenly widely used, and most gestating sows were housed in outdoor lots, I can attest to the fact sows housed together in loose lots do not get along well. Larger sows are quite willing to bully smaller ones at the feed trough, and they are not gentle in doing so.

Individual sows stall allow greater customization of feeding for sows, which has its merits.

Of course the science of things means little to consumers.

They work on emotion and perception, and are vocal in regards to both.

Consumers are voters, with far more of them out there than farmers, so politicians tend to listen to them. That is where legislation can happen which has little to do with common sense — the ban on horse slaughter in the U.S. a glaring example of such bad decision by government based on misplaced consumer pressure.

Moving forward the hog, poultry and other farm sectors, even grain production in terms of chemical application on genetically modified varieties, will face more interference from such regulations and legislation.

And that should be a future the World Pork Expo, and all farm meetings looking ahead should be discussing.



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