From new vaccine mandates for truck drivers crossing the Canada-U.S. border, to rail cars and cargo ships delayed by the B.C. flood recovery, to COVID-19 labour shortages, supply chain challenges in the agri-food sector have dominated news headlines in recent months. Combined with increasing inflation, cost of production for Alberta’s hog farmers is sharply on the rise.
“The past year has presented quite a few disruptions at every stage of the value chain,” said Bijon Brown, Production Economist, Alberta Pork. “Feed represents the greatest proportion of farm costs, and the price of other on-farm requirements can also have a harmful impact on producers’ businesses.”
Most recently, the price of certain pharmaceuticals has shocked producers who rely on these medicines to improve the health of their pigs.
“When we placed our last order to fill a certain prescription, the bill was nearly 50 per cent higher than when we ordered it just a while back, amounting to a few hundred dollars extra,” said Steven Waldner, who manages a medium-sized farrow-to-finish operation southeast of Lethbridge. “We have also noticed other products doubling in price by weight.”
In addition to feed and pharmaceuticals, other inputs have also become noticeably more expensive. By now, the world has been living with COVID-19 for nearly two years, and many wrinkles related to the pandemic have since been ironed out. Besides obstacles like worker absenteeism in meat processing plants or fewer goods moving across the international border, are other factors behind cost increases?
“COVID-19, politics and trade can undoubtedly be problematic when it comes to stability in the marketplace,” said Darcy Fitzgerald, Executive Director, Alberta Pork. “But are these the only reasons for more complicated pricing problems?”
When it comes to insurance, many farmers have experienced that coverage is becoming more difficult to find and more expensive, along with some essential farm services.
“When we recently surveyed producers, based on last year’s expenses, early indications have shown that insurance costs have jumped by almost 20 per cent,” said Brown. “In fact, insurance premiums have increased by one-fifth, while manure removal now costs one-and-a-half times as much.”
Farmers are often at the mercy of suppliers when it comes to sourcing products and services that they cannot afford but also cannot afford to do without, when raising pigs. With animal welfare, biosecurity and food safety constantly at stake, farmers often have few options when it comes to making these purchases, given a lack of competition or regional isolation.
On top of the aforementioned difficulties, suppliers and governments sometimes make decisions that are not in producers’ best interests. High energy prices, in addition to a carbon tax that is increasing annually, have placed considerable strain on hog farmers, who have no recourse for recouping these costs. Equitable hog pricing remains a goal for some stakeholders in the industry, but that side of the equation alone is not enough to secure long-term sustainability for local pig production.
For questions or concerns, including media inquiries, please contact Darcy Fitzgerald, Executive Director, Alberta Pork by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 780-491-3529, toll-free at 1-877-247-PORK (7675).