Ho-hum at home, but world goes wild
While Canadians are consuming less pork, the world's hankering for the other white meat is growing. According to Statistics Canada, domestic pork consumption is down 1.4 kg per capita versus 1995's 27.6 kg.
This drop in pork consumption does not present an accurate picture of the industry, says Jim Vidoczy, director of consumer marketing for the Ontario Pork Producers Marketing Board.
Pork production dropped approximately 40,000 tonnes, dressed weight, in 1995, mainly due to low returns for producers.
Pork exports were worth $1.1 billion in 1996, up from $968 million in 1995. According to Vidoczy, pork producers were not happy with the price they were getting for pork in Canada, so they expanded their markets in the U.S. and Japan. "We can get more money for our pork elsewhere," he says, "so that's where it goes."
Vidoczy has a longer-term view of the pork market and likes what he sees. Over the last 20 years, he says, the numbers on pork consumption have gone up and down somewhat, but it's "pretty much a straight line." He says pork is a strong consumer product, "not faddish".
As far as the Statistics Canada report goes, "these numbers don't disappoint us," says Vidoczy.
Per capita consumption of chicken increased 0.1 kg to 24.9 kg in 1995. Beef consumption remains higher than chicken at 30.2 kg, though it dropped from 31.4 in 1995.
PIGS CHEW ON CHIPS
Researchers at Ohio State University's Agricultural Technical Institute have given thumbs up to pork producers wanting to feed crumbled potato chips as a substitute for high-priced corn.
Ohio State's Sha Rahnema says potato chip manufacturers sell scrap potato chips to U.S. feed manufacturers by the truckload and his research shows that the crunchy castoffs have good feed value.
In his experiment, Rahnema mixed crumbled potato chip scrap in a pelleted complete diet and used it to replace up to 20 per cent of the corn required for 35-day-old pig diets.
Over a two-week trial period, average daily gain increased slightly over corn diets while feed intake declined slightly, producing an increase in feed:gain ratio. Rahnema also reported that the chips contained about 34-per-cent fat and fairly high levels of salt.
B.C. producers feel population pressure
British Columbia pork producers are beginning to feel the squeeze of the province's environmental laws.
Earlier this year, hog producer L&B Ranch Inc. of Abbotsford was charged with five counts under the province's Waste Management Act. The charges were filed after an investigation carried out by provincial environment ministry staff revealed the company spread manure on bare and snow-covered fields last winter.
Bev Locken, agricultural impact officer for the environment ministry, says a fish-bearing stream runs through the property and the company failed to abide by a pollution prevention order prohibiting manure spreading near the stream.
The charges sent shock waves through the B.C. pork industry, which numbers about 250 hog farms, and fuelled fears that environmental pressure from burgeoning urban settlements around Vancouver would begin to intensify. More than 75 per cent of British Columbia market hogs are finished in the Fraser Valley, which runs east from Greater Vancouver. Fifteen per cent are finished in North Okanagan and about five per cent on Vancouver Island.
LOOKING FOR GREEN LEADERSHIP
Pork producers in eastern Ontario are watching with great interest and trepidation as East Hawkesbury township farmer John Skotidakis prepares to build a 1,200-head hog finishing barn.
Skotidakis' exploits are well-known in eastern Ontario. In a turbulent 20-year period, Skotidakis built a goat cheese dynasty, producing feta cheese and other dairy products for some of the country's largest retailers. Along the way, he has often run afoul of environmental rules, but has managed to survive ministry of agriculture investigations as well as prosecutions and fines for environmental indiscretions.
Skotidakis now faces a variety of provincial court charges laid by the Ministry of Environment and Energy in connection with whey disposal. There are allegations that he mishandled goat manure and interfered with a provincial inspector.
Last March, East Hawkesbury township passed an interim bylaw banning expansion or construction of swine operations throughout the entire agriculture-based township, primarily to keep Skotidakis out of the hog business. The bylaw has raised the ire of producers in the area who feel they are being unjustly targetted.
Marion Myers, president of the Prescott and Glengarry Pork Producers Association, says "It's unfair to punish every other pork producer in East Hawkesbury because of one operation."
As environmental pressures increase in rural Ontario, pork producers will have to defend their farming practices. A new farm practices protection law, expected to be unveiled by provincial Agriculture Minister Noble Villeneuve this month, will likely give producers some measure of protection against complaints, but it will not be a licence to pollute.
In the interests of all producers, it's time the industry started policing itself. Quebec producers, in the face of intense pressure from government and environmental interests, have embarked on a plan to build environmental credibility for their industry. The Fédération des producteurs de porc du Québec is pursuing an ambitious environment management project in an attempt to show leadership and reduce environmental scrutiny.
Industry leaders expect most producers will participate in the voluntary plan to assess the industry's environmental impact. Farm details producers must submit include nutrient management information, feeding regiments, as well as farm locations and distances from streams and neighbours. Producers want to use the confidential information to paint an industry portrait that will show that the pork industry is green and is committed to environmentally-sound practices.
In Quebec, just as in Ontario, there are pork farms that operate contrary to environmental regulations, but when problems flare up in the future, Quebec producers will have a credible resource to prove their good intentions when individual producers run into problems.
In Ontario, bylaw changes have prompted producers in both Perth and Huron counties to consider ways to deal with more restrictions, including farmer review panels and nutrient management plans. But the industry needs a province-wide initiative. A good starting point would be to have producers fill out Environmental Farm Plans, a project being pushed by a number of provincial farm organizations.
The Ontario pork board is the obvious choice to co-ordinate the industry effort. While primarily a marketing entity, the board has to realize the importance of dealing properly with environmental issues to protect the industry.
The board has spent much time in the last year trying to develop new marketing alternatives for producers, but pork board directors and producers on the back concessions must realize that there's more to the future than futures and options.