EDMONTON — Tees farmer Herman Simons has warned the province about severe impacts if the Alberta hog industry is allowed to collapse.
Chairman of Alberta Pork for the past two years, Simons and his board have been promoting a long-term plan that will completely change the way the pork industry operates within Alberta.
But that plan is worth nothing if farmers continue to be forced out of production, Simons said while introducing Agriculture Minister George Groeneveld to producers at Alberta Pork’s annual general meeting in Edmonton on Thursday.
“Our backs are against the wall and we’re starting to fight, because if we don’t we’re dead,” said Simons.
He appealed to Groeneveld to set up a short-term funding program that would help hog producers meet their bills and feed their animals until June, when they hope to see the stronger prices needed for their barns to become profitable.
A federal loan program “is failing miserably” because the banks and financial institutions taking part have set interest rates so high that those producers who could benefit from the loans cannot afford the payments, said Simons.
The federal government has also offered a transition program that pays farmers to stop breeding pigs for at least three years, he said.
Of the 650 farms that have applied across the country, 77 are in Alberta, representing more than one quarter of all the farms that still have hogs on them.
“If we lose 25 per cent of these individuals, what do we have left? We cannot afford to lose the critical mass of this industry. If we lose the critical mass, we lose the Red Deer facility (Olymel) and they lose 1,200 to 1,400 employees in Red Deer.”
That loss would create a downhill spiral that would take out 80 per cent of the industry, said Simons.
“You always hope the speaker ahead of you is the warm-up act. I’m not sure you did that very well, but we certainly hear what you’re saying,” said Groeneveld as he took the stage.
The province will help where it can, he said, but that help will not include dipping into its savings account to help hog farmers because that would open the door for other industries that are also suffering.
While unable to offer any cash, the minister said he would speak with his federal counterpart, Gary Ritz, about possible revisions to the loan program.
Groeneveld commended Alberta Pork for taking the lead in developing new strategies for a flagging industry, adding that trade missions to various countries are among the tools being used to improve Alberta’s ability to compete and succeed in world markets.
However, he said there is no one answer and there will be no more money available to provide short-term relief for farmers who have continued to struggle against income losses.