2019 AGM & Banquet - Top 10 Takeways

- Submitted by Kelvin Heppner, April 11, 2019

Manitoba Pork's 54th Annual General Meeting and Banquet took place on April 11, 2019 at The Fairmont Winnipeg. Here are some things you should know: 

  1. Halting the spread of African Swine Fever is top of mind nationally and provincially. Virtually every speaker addressed the threat of ASF being found in North America.
  2. There’s never been more potential AND more risk. Manitoba Pork Chair George Matheson borrowed a well-known Charles Dickens line to describe what lies ahead for pork producers: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” ASF is devastating Chinese pork production, creating a global pork shortage that could support stronger prices here at home for several years. But borders would likely close immediately, and stay closed for months, if the virus was found in Canada. The stakes are high.
  3. On a much more positive note, there’s a wave of new investment on Manitoba hog farms — there have now been 28 barn builds/expansions since January 2017. Provincial Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler spoke about wanting to see more barns built to supply unfilled processing capacity, to bring more jobs to rural communities, and to fulfill the goals laid out in his government’s highly-touted protein strategy. “We are building barns in Manitoba, something we have not seen in a while,” noted Matheson.
  4. Trade and market access remain vital in the face of global protectionism — 90 percent of Manitoba pork production is sold outside of Canada, so trade is part of almost every conversation about Manitoba pigs. U.S. hog industry representatives from Iowa and Minnesota spoke with envy about Canada remaining in the CPTPP, giving Canadian pork a tariff advantage into the important Japanese market. Meanwhile, Chinese tariffs continue to impact the U.S. pork market (on which Canadian prices are based.)
  5. That being said, is it time for a made-in-Canada hog price? After years of discussion and increasingly thin U.S. live hog trade to use for pricing formulas, the Canadian Pork Council has hired a team of consultants to look at the feasibility of a made-in-Canada pig price. They’re not only looking at the currency conversion from U.S. dollars, but trying to find indicators that could be used to account for differences in how Canadian pigs are graded, and the value of each cut across different export markets. Their report is expected in late June.
  6. PEDv seems to be quieting down — there have been two new cases in the province in 2019 (as of April 11), after 17 last year and 80 in 2017. Construction of Manitoba Pork’s new disease response trailer to help producers with high numbers of sick, young pigs is nearing completion.
  7. Wild pigs warrant more attention. “We’re probably, quite frankly, 20 years behind on this, but we need to get going,” noted John Ross, executive director of the Canadian Pork Council. Wild pig territory in the prairie provinces is expanding by 25,000 square kilometers per year, according to research presented by CPC Veterinary Counsel, Dr. Egan Brockhoff. “You probably couldn’t think of a more successful invasive species.” So far, Brockhoff noted, this wild herd could be described as “high health,” but it could easily become an out-of-control disease reservoir.
  8. Can producers receive more value for on-farm programs? The Canadian Pork Excellence certification program started January 1, 2019, building on the Canadian Quality Assurance program. Delegates at the meeting passed a resolution to have processors pay a $7/head premium for CPE certified pigs. It remains to be seen where this resolution goes, but producers want to be recognized for the additional effort required to meet these traceability, food safety and animal care standards.
  9. Public awareness and food trends — Manitoba Pork continues to invest in public awareness, especially in the City of Winnipeg. The goal of these media campaigns is not only to sell pork but, more importantly, to maintain a positive public image of pork production. Over 80 percent of Manitobans say they believe pork production is good for the province, according to the latest survey by Probe Research. At the same time, several speakers referenced vegan views gaining mainstream attention, A&W selling ‘meatless’ burgers and the federal government’s new food guide, which advocates replacing meat with plant protein. “The Canada Food Guide didn’t do us any favours this year,” noted Matheson.
  10. Finally, whether it’s production practices, consumer trends or evolving viruses, the meeting was a reminder that the pig business is always changing, as Dr. Brockhoff wrapped up his presentation with this quote from General Eric Shinseki: “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”