Officials with Alberta Pork were able to use a word on Wednesday that they hadn’t uttered for years: profit.
The doom and gloom that’s hung over past regional meetings of the provincial hog association was replaced with an air of optimism at the producer gathering in Red Deer.
“It’s been the best year we’ve had in more than a decade,” said Will Kingma, a Bentley-area producer and vice-chair of Alberta Pork.
The improved prices are due in large part to a lower Canadian dollar, which favours hog operations here relative to their counterparts in the United States, said Kingma.
“Once we’re sitting at 90 cents, and a little below 90 cents, we’re competitive again.”
Meanwhile, record high feed costs have come down, he said. And pig numbers in the United States have plummeted as a result of the deadly porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, which has infected some 6,400 farms in 30 states.
“We’re talking six per cent less pigs coming to market, basically on the back of the PED virus in North America.”
The higher prices are finding their way to store coolers, acknowledged Kingma, but pork still offers excellent value.
“It’s still a really affordable protein in comparison to, let’s say, beef or chicken.”
He added that a 10 to 20 cent increase in the price of a kilogram of pork shouldn’t have a big impact on consumers, but is huge for producers.
Kingma still expects ups and downs in the domestic pork industry, but said the long-term outlook is positive.
“It’s not like producers are going to be forced out of the industry like they have been since 2006.”
That said, Kingma doesn’t anticipate pig numbers in Canada — depleted during years of adversity — will rebound quickly.
“There is nobody building right now,” he said.
“We could be looking at three or four years, really, before there’s any response to this.”
While delivering the chairman’s report at Alberta Pork’s Red Deer meeting on behalf of Frank Novak, Kingma noted that producers lost an average of $16 an animal over the past five years.
“It’s going to take four years at $20 a pig to make all of that back. We’re experiencing some really good profits now, but it’s going to take a little bit to get us back to where we’re in a position that we feel like we can start expanding our industry again.”
There are still concerns, including the threat of the PED virus spreading into Alberta. It’s already been found on 58 farms in Ontario, plus others in Manitoba and Prince Edward Island.
“I’d be surprised if at some point we don’t see a case happen,” said Kingma.
If and when that occurs, the key will be acting quickly and decisively to prevent its spread, he said.