Tori Sutton, Stratford Gazette
Despite news of an impending global shortage, Perth County producers are confident there will still be some pork for your fork.
Last week, reports out of England indicated a global pork shortage was “unavoidable” due to rising feed costs.
While there are major issues within the industry, consumers need not worry that pork will be disappearing from the shelves of local grocery stores any time soon.
“Personally I don’t think we’re going to run out of bacon, but we will likely see the price of pork in the grocery store rise,” said Doug Ahrens, Ontario Pork Zone 2 director.
“It may rally the price a little bit at the grocery store. Will it rally the price at the farm gate? I doubt it.”
Ahrens explains the current challenges in the hog industry are multi-faceted and at times complicated, with no single issue to blame.
However, it is undeniable that rising feed costs – mostly caused by the summer’s drought, coupled with the financial impact of the production of corn-based ethanol – have many producers hurting.
“We’re losing $40 on every pig we produce,” he said, noting he personally produces about 300 pigs per week at his operation.
“If I’m going to lose $40 a pig, that’s a lot of cash. That’s $12,000 per week.”
But perhaps what is having the biggest impact – and has brought several producers to their knees already locally – is what Ahrens describes as “opportunists” within the industry.
Most agreements between producers are little more than a handshake.
Some people have been breaking these goodwill contracts, sourcing pigs from out-of-province – where the bottom has come out of the industry and producers are desperate to empty their barns – rather than from their local contacts.
“The Ontario industry is built on Ontario production and now all of a sudden you bring in these pigs,” Ahrens said. “Bringing in thousands from Manitoba displaces thousands in Ontario.”
Many producers are sending their sows to market in an attempt to decrease the size of their herds.
Some in Perth County have already emptied their barns.
He fears that if the market rebounds, the damage will already have been done and there will be a provincial shortage.
“If there aren’t enough pigs in Ontario, it becomes a huge issue,” Ahrens said, noting processors would be affected and jobs would likely be lost.
“Ultimately, it is not sustainable long term.”
And he points out that if the price of pork rises at the grocery store, that doesn’t necessarily equal money in the hands of farmers.
It’s a statement with which Perth County Pork Producers Association president Johanne Groenestege agrees.
“The people who sell this meat are probably going to be making all the money,” said Groenestege, who has a farrow-to-finish operation.
“If they say bacon is going to be scarce they’ll put the price up and people will pay for it. But we won’t be seeing any of that money – that’s the worst part.”
Instead of making pork products more scarce, the feed-cost situation has done the exact opposite, at least in the short term.
The increase in the number of sows going to market has resulted in a flood of meat – perhaps even too much.
“They tell us the coolers are full,” she said. “There’s nothing to worry about for now in terms of availability.”
With industry prices dropping “like crazy” Groenestege isn’t quite sure what to think of rumours of a global shortage, but she knows there are some real problems to be addressed.
“I’m not sure what to make of it,” she said. “Truth be known, there is a big problem in the pork industry right now.”