View from Canada – we can meet most nations’ demands on trade deals

In the latest edition of Pig World, Canadian farmer Jurgen Preugschas outlined he current state of his country’s pig industry and gave the Canadian perspective on a future trade deal with the UK. Jurgen is president of family pig business, Pigs R Us, in Alberta, a former member of the Canadian Pork Council and currently a director of the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency

It’s a pleasure to provide an update on the pig industry in Canada, as yet again the world finds itself in a volatile and unstable situation.

The last couple of years have been quite a rollercoaster for our industry, with periods of decent profits followed by periods of severe losses. During the Covid pandemic we experienced a lot of uncertainty on the labour front, especially in our slaughter and processing facilities.

This, of course, put a huge strain on the plants and affected their margins tremendously. It also created a backlog of pigs on the farm, which affected production costs and resulted in much lower prices just to get the pigs slaughtered.

Hopefully the backlog of finisher pigs is pretty well over at this time. Prices are strong at present, but feed costs are the highest we have ever experienced, showing us some profit but certainly not enough to renew our ageing barns or update to the new animal welfare standards.

Renovations of the sow barns into stall free housing is progressing, albeit slower than what had been hoped for, and we do not foresee much change in Canada’s hog production numbers over the next few years.

Structural change

As I wrote in my update two years ago, the Canadian pig industry continues to undergo massive structural changes due to the swine producers’ lack of profits.

More and more of the independent producers are forced to align themselves with the bigger players in the industry and many have turned to custom finishing pigs for these larger slaughterhouses. This allows the producers to continue to raise pigs and utilise the barns they have.

In this model, the margins are very tight, but they are enough to allow producers to continue in the industry. One example of a very successful model is where several producers have banded together to buy their own killing plant, thereby being able to return a much higher share to their shareholders. This company had some initial growing pains but recently has been very profitable for the producers involved.

Canada-UK trade deal

The Canadian industry is, however, extremely dependant on the export market, with close to 70% of the pigs born in Canada being exported to and eaten elsewhere in the world.

This means that strong trade agreements are critical for getting farmers access to the markets in other countries. Currently Canada and the UK are in negotiations to create a free trade deal which would include meat and meat products.

Canada and the UK have historically enjoyed a good trading relationship, and the hope is that this will continue. Canadian producers believe that with the high-quality pork we produce, the trade of pork could be very beneficial to both our countries, though issues always arise in terms of the expectations to meet animal welfare demands – as well as antibiotic and ractopamine uses.

However, the Canadian industry is phasing out the usage of gestation stalls, to meet welfare demands; antibiotic use is also reducing significantly so, again, we do not see this as a major stumbling block for the export of pork to other countries; and for several years now the pig industry has stopped the usage of ractopamine, due to the demands of export customers.

Canada already exports pork to over 100 countries and therefore has the ability to fill the demands of most nations.

A continuing challenge for the farm is always labour, both for our barns as well as the slaughter plants. We are very dependent on foreign workers that come in for two to four years from other countries, to fill the void in Canada’s own labour market.

Also, still very much on our radar is the African Swine Fever (ASF) problem plaguing the world. Our industry continues to be extremely vigilant to prevent the introduction of this devastating disease into the North America continent.

With our huge dependence on trade, it would be devastating to our industry if ASF were to spread here. One of the strengths of our industry is the care that is taken to maintain high biosecurity standards, especially in our barns, to minimise the introduction of diseases into herds and the industry.

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About The Author

Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.