SURFING FOR SALES


Ontario Pork replaces old electronic auction with updated "Intranet" version
By ROBERT IRWIN

To an outsider, changing the highly-regarded technology behind the electronic hog auction system, which the Ontario Pork Producers Marketing Board (OPPMB) has proudly shown to visiting foreign delegations for years, may seem unthinkable. But Zev Ionis, the pork board's information services director, says the decades-old system has come to the end of the line.

Repair service is problematic and costly for the current buying machine, now 11 years old and running on even older software. It also has no room for additional buyers.

INNOVATIONS
In recent years, a number of medium-sized Ontario packers have been forced to participate in the auction with a proxy arrangement which involves an OPPMB staff member communicating bids received over the telephone.

Ionis says six additional Quebec and American buyers "have expressed interest" in joining the auction. The number who eventually participate in the new system "will depend on the economic climate at any given moment," says Ionis.

The new system, which gets underway this month, is based on standard Internet technology. It provides a lot more information to everyone involved but is especially friendly to American packers.

They can set their screens to display bids in Canadian or American currency or both at the same time. The system can also convert between live weight and dressed weight.

Another new feature allows a buyer to see immediately what he has bought and at what average price. The auctioneer's screen shows who has bought what during the auction and allows the auctioneer to inspect an individual's buying history.

Just because the new system is Internet-based doesn't mean just anyone can surf on over to see how things are going. The system is technically an Intranet or private network.

It's not available to the general public and heavy security keeps computer hackers out. Users have to know the access phone number and have an individual identification code and password.

Then there are further recognition protocols once a user logs onto the network. Finally, when users enter the auction itself, there is a further log-in procedure.


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RULES REIN IN NORTH CAROLINA GROWTH

By STEVE MARBERY

State environmental regulations and county ordinances have stifled expansion in North Carolina, where integrators want to grow despite a shortage of shackle space.

Smithfield Packing Co.'s Bladen county facility and Lundy Packing Co. at Clinton, N.C., the state's only major hog plants, are running at capacity. Combined, they slaughtered 60 per cent of North Carolina marketings last year, approximately 8.46 million head, according to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. The balance was exported as feeder pigs (roughly 1.13 million head) and market hogs.

Despite the probability of a one-year moratorium on new and expanded units and tougher environmental regulations, the state's breeding herd has risen about 50,000 head since December. That means the nation's second-largest hog state could boost marketings this year beyond 15 million head.

Smithfield's Bladen county plant is awaiting a waste discharge permit for a final shift, which would increase capacity another two million head per year.

Pennsylvania
Hatfield Packing Co. of Pennsylvania provides an East Coast outlet for North Carolina producers who are scrambling for markets. The independent, family-owned packer has developed long-standing relationships with key North Carolina producers in recent years.

Dwindling hog supplies in the Mid-Atlantic region have prompted Hatfield to form alliances with pork producers to boost Pennsylvania's pig inventory. Slaughtering approximately 7,200 head per day on one shift, the plant is running at about 30 per cent capacity. The state's only packer, Hatfield is planning to procure hogs through a long-term marketing agreement with Pennsylvania Family Farms, a new venture directed by Hostetter Management Co., a Lancaster county enterprise.

Sow units in upstate Pennsylvania are being linked to finishing barns in the state's southeastern quadrant, closer to the packing plant. Hatfield also owns a large sow operation in southern New York.

One of the nation's most modern, the packing company is refining an automated version of the Fat-O-Meater (FOM). Designed by Denmark's SFK Technologies, the new instrument, AutoFOM, calculates lean primal cut percentages. Hatfield is planning a producer payment plan linked to the measurement system.

Virginia
Strong hog profits have not fueled much expansion in Virginia, Maryland or Delaware, mainly because of rising rural population pressures and the ever-present ordinances restricting livestock production.

However, right-to-farm laws have given producers some protection against excessive county zoning laws in Virginia, where Smithfield operates two hog slaughtering plants. Combined, the facilities killed more than 90 per cent of the 4.3 million hogs slaughtered at state and federally-inspected Virginia plants last year. Approximately 20 per cent of these hogs originate in Virginia, down from 35 to 40 per cent in the late 1980s.

Last year, Virginia was the only state to register an increase in hog farms. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the state added 100 new operations, bringing the total to 2,200. All other states lost farms or held steady.

Smithfield's Virginia plants face persistent competition from Hatfield, which maintains an aggressive buying presence in North Carolina.


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Profits up at Maple Leaf


First quarter profits for hog processor Maple Leaf Foods increased by 74 per cent compared to the 1996 results. Each of the company's three business groups, including the Meat Products group, reported increased operating earnings.

Net earnings for the period increased to $4 million, up from $2.3 million a year earlier. Total sales increased from $692 million to $847 million. The company says a significant part of the sales increase is due to the company's acquisition of Burns Meats-Gainers last October.

The company said earning increased despite a Prairie hog price war which cost Maple Leaf $1.6 million in premiums to protect its share of live hogs in Western Canada.

In April, the company released 1996 earnings for top executives. Archie McLean, the company's chief executive officer, took home $600,000 in salary plus a $195,000 bonus last year. Maple Leaf president Michael McCain was paid a $400,000 salary and a bonus of $123,000. - BT


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SEE YOU AT THE PORK CONGRESS


Sow stalls are still preferred for dry sows but loose housing is enjoying a modest revival, according to Prairie Swine Centre's Lee Whittington, who is part of a delegation from the Saskatchewan-based Veterinary Infectious Diseases Organization (VIDO). The organization is featured at the Ontario Pork Congress Gold Event at 9:30 p.m., Wednesday, June 18, 1997, at Stratford's Festival Inn.

It is also featured at the Congress' Education Program. The group will present a new book entitled Dry Sow Barn Design & Management.

The fifth in a series of VIDO practical management guides for pork producers, the publication says some producers are avoiding stalls to satisfy animal rights activists. It also claims some new breeding company bloodlines are better suited to loose housing.

The book acknowledges that loose housing isn't as common in Canada as it is in Europe where computerized feeding is popular. Furthermore, unlike several European countries, Canada has no legislation banning sow stalls, nor is any pending.

Regardless of housing choice, the true test of a successful sow operation is dry sow performance. A major portion of the new book deals with performance targets.

"That is an innovation," Whittington says. Sample charts in the book help make record keeping a day-to-day management tool, he says.

Records are a hot topic with Dr. Cate Dewey, a veterinarian and University of Guelph researcher. Beginning at 6:45 p.m., Dr. Dewey speaks at the Gold Event about her research involving computerized swine records.

Dewey, who was in private practice in Ontario and later spent three and a half years as a faculty member at the University of Nebraska, says action lists, which can be generated by the Pig Champs computer system, could boost returns on many farms. She believes many producers could extract more from the records they are keeping and, during her research, has been able to see underlying health problems through interpretation of records.

Dr. Claire Plante, an assistant professor at the University of Guelph, will review some of her work with reproductive health. "I plan to cover some of the pitfalls of low fertility, low pregnancy rate and small litters," Plante says.

Plante holds a Masters' degree in reproductive physiology from the University of Montreal, a PhD from the University of Florida and has completed a residency at Iowa State University. She speaks at 7:25 p.m., Wednesday, June 14, at the Gold Event.

Other Gold Event speakers include Dr. Kees deLange, University of Guelph, who will describe how the industry can use growth information. Gary Maas, president and co-owner of Agri Careers, one of Iowa's largest recruiting and consulting firms, will be on hand for the Gold Event and the education programs on Thursday, June 19 and Friday, June 20. His topics include "Attracting Top-Notch Employees" and "Keeping the Fun in Work."

Dr. John Gibson, also from the University of Guelph, describes "What's Next with Genetics" as part of Thursday and Friday's education programs. He leads off both days at 10:00 a.m.

The education program also features a variety of industry innovators and leaders as well as comedian Dave Broadfoot of Royal Canadian Air Farce fame.


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