COVID-19 challenges the hog industry

Andrew Dickson, General Manager – The community spread of COVID-19 in the Prairie Mountain Health Region since late July has challenged the hog sector in terms of processing capacity at the Maple Leaf Foods (MLF) plant in Brandon.

At the beginning of the pandemic in mid-March, MLF implemented superior workplace protocols to ensure staff safety at the Brandon plant. Manitoba Public Health has repeatedly affirmed that MLF’s measures are above and beyond public heath recommendations, and that there is no need to close the plant. Producers are extremely grateful to the individuals who continue to report for work every day and keep the plant operating. 

To address the recent capacity challenges, MLF has reconfigured the plant’s processing flows and continued to maintain a high level of pig intake, including the start-up of Saturday shifts, with the balance shipped to other processing plants in Western Canada. Hams Marketing played a key role in making this all work. While the plant is still not at full processing capacity, it is on the right path to recovery over the next weeks.

Some producers have seen an increase in shipping costs and a different price settlement. To remedy this, Manitoba Pork has formally asked the provincial and federal governments to provide some compensation for these unexpected costs for affected producers through the Agri-Recovery Program.

Since early August, Manitoba Pork has continued to work closely with different processors and the provincial/municipal authorities to ensure there is a measured, effective response to the impact on the plant workforce. We’ve shared our communications expertise with City of Brandon staff, helping to get the message out that everyone in the region must embrace the COVID-19 guidelines. MLF recently distributed almost half a million free masks around Brandon. Hopefully, southwestern Manitoba can soon return to the zero pandemic numbers it was experiencing earlier this year.

Make no mistake, COVID-19 will be a scourge for at least the next year. The continued slump in hog prices because of the pandemic’s effect on pork consumption in the U.S. has only added to the challenges facing the sector. Future prices in June-July 2021 look promising, but there are still financial woes to be endured until then.

We will get through this, however, and we will meet again. Remember, we’re here if you need us: 204-237-7447 or 

Andrew Dickson, General Manager