New barns and biosecurity vital to sustained growth in the Manitoba hog industry

By Harry Siemens – George Matheson, a hog farmer near Stonewall, MB and chair of the Manitoba Pork Council, sat down at the recent Prairie Livestock Expo in Winnipeg to talk about his farm, his role as chair of MPC and the pork industry. The PLE brings producers together from a variety of livestock sectors with exhibits from all three Prairie provinces with hundreds of producers taking it in.  
Matheson’s farm began producing pigs in 1982, and he talked about how things keep going on the farm while he spends time on hog producers’ business.
“I have a brother and a nephew, his son, who farm with me. Livestock, of course, is a 365-day job, and they look after things when I am away, so it’s worked out well over the years,” he said.
Matheson took over from Karl Kynoch as chair after spending nine years as a director and found the job of chairing the MPC very much as expected.
“I had a pretty good idea, for the most part, what went on. But until you sit in that chair, you don’t know everything about being the chair of Manitoba Pork,” he said. “There’s been a bit of learning as well, but the curve has been very gentle and very kind to me, let’s say.”
Matheson said biosecurity and the threat of hog diseases in North America and throughout the world is a challenge the industry continually confronts and the guard must stay up.
“We’ve done an outstanding job, I feel, managing PED, which devastated the North American hog population in 2014. The one on the horizon now is African swine fever, which could be even more serious, of course, being a foreign animal disease, if it came into North America. So that biosecurity, as I mentioned, is very concerning,” he said. “Also, the construction of new hog barns to make sure that our plants in Manitoba are as full as possible is another thing that we’re trying to assist producers. Public affairs are always ongoing, to educate the public in regards to nutritional value and sustainability of our industry, animal care, workplace health and safety. They’re issues that we will always be dealing with.”
Things have changed in regards to setting up new barns, especially the processing of the permits required to meet all the standards. There was a time a producer would come into these hearings facing confrontations often discouraging producers from even trying saying, “You know what? If that’s what I have to go through, then I’m not going get involved.”
Manitoba Pork formed the Manitoba Swine Infrastructure Development Corporation which is
“I think it’s assisted the producers who are interested in expanding a great deal. Permitting processing is still very complex, and also the conditional use hearing can be trying for a producer, so giving them the proper information, the proper preparation for these things has been a great assistance to them,” said Matheson. “It’s one of those things that the staff foresaw as a need that the hog producer in Manitoba had, and they were right on, and it is very valuable and will continue to be so for the next few years.”
While under the umbrella of the Manitoba Pork Council the MSIDC it operates at arm’s length and revenue neutral to the Council meaning the users pay for the service.
“The exact specifications of it, as an entity just outside of the jurisdiction of Manitoba Pork and it operates as a corporation financed by Manitoba Pork, but at the end user fees applied so that it will be a zero-sum budget come year-end,” he said. “Yep, which is good, because not all producers, of course, are building new barns. It’s a valuable service, but it’s just one of those things where, hey, if you need it, it’s there, it will cost, but at the same time it will be of great value to you.”