Listowel Banner editorial
American hog industry lobbyists were quick to shoot down recent warnings from a European economic thinktank about a pending bacon shortage. The warnings, citing rising feed costs due to droughts in major crop-producing parts of the world, inspired much discussion — the serious kind, as well as the kind containing seemingly boundless pig-related puns — on social media sites and in the mainstream media.
Here in southwestern Ontario farm country, the reaction among the knowledgeable tended to side with the American lobbyists.
“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,” Ontario Pork’s Zone 2 director, Doug Ahrens, told the Stratford Gazette newspaper in an interview earlier this week.
Despite the Perth County pig farmer’s reluctance to hop on the European analysts’ doomsday bandwagon, the Gazette article in which he’s quoted — which can be viewed online at www.stratfordgazette.com — nonetheless presents a less-than-rosy outlook for this province’s hog industry.
Rising feed costs are definitely a factor. The squeeze from processors to keep production costs down is definitely a factor. But Ahrens says the biggest concern right now is middlemen bringing in truckloads of hogs from other jurisdictions . . . jurisdictions where producers have been heavily influenced by the doomsday scenarios, and are emptying their barns with little or no heed to earning a return. That pushes prices down here.
“We’re losing $40 on every pig we produce,” Ahrens 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.”
Bacon won’t disappear. People want bacon. And its cost won’t climb into the stratosphere. After all, agricultural engineers, crop scientists and livestock nutritionists have spent decades coming up with ways to produce pork in the most cost-effective manners possible.
But, as Ahrens suggests, the cost in the grocery stores might still climb. And some people might decide it has climbed too high to keep eating pork.
There could be another side to the equation, however. Some conventional pork producers — including the Aarts family that now owns McCully’s Hill Farm; the Szabo family of Kirkton, who sell every week at the St. Marys Farmers Market; and the award-winning Mitchell-area producers at Willowgrove Hill Farm — currently send most of their conventionally-raised pork into the same bound-for-the-grocery-store market as their neighbours. But they also keep aside a smaller proportion of their hogs for a different form of marketing . . . direct-to-consumer, with a value-added component.
Those market opportunities are small, but they tend to earn a better price than the conventional marketplace. And if consumers start deciding it’s getting too expensive at the grocery store, some might decide the price being asked at the farmers market or on-farm store is a better deal.
Certainly, they’re a better deal for the farmer — entirely different than a $40 loss per pig.
- Special to The Listowel Banner