Pork producers across Alberta and Saskatchewan are worried about what a backlog at the Olymel pork processing plant could mean.
The plant in Red Deer, which was shut down this week amid growing concerns about a COVID-19 outbreak, processes close to 45,000 pigs per week according to Alberta Pork.
The plant shut down as more than 343 COVID-19 cases were connected to the outbreak at the facility, over 200 of which are active.
Alberta Pork executive director Darcy Fitzgerald said an extended shutdown will be hard on the industry, forcing producers to look for alternative means.
“We don’t know when the plant will open, so that is our problem right now. Every week means approximately 45,000 pigs from Alberta and Saskatchewan producers will have to find another home or sit in the barn and wait,” he said.
“For a large majority of independent and colony producers, they have a finite time that they can keep the pigs in the barn. Two weeks may be doable for most. If not, they’ll have to find somewhere else to go. After two weeks, it gets a little tight.”
He said that some will be looking south of the border with a lack of large processing facilities in Alberta, but that could mean losses of more than $10,000 for producers because of transportation costs.
“In Western Canada, it is rather difficult because of the size of Olymel and how many pigs they process. There’s not a lot of options for that volume of pigs to go into the other plants that remain open,” Fitzgerald said.
“It is a waiting game. The alternative is to ship them to the U.S. and we are guaranteed to lose money on that. Most producers would be paid less than they get paid here and they’d have a fairly large transportation bill.”
Fitzgerald explained that his organization has reached out to the provincial government in the hopes that pork producers could take advantage of the AgriRecovery Program. That program mainly helps producers deal with income and production losses from disasters.
Last summer, the Ontario government used the program to provide $10 million in emergency relief for beef and hog farmers.
The funding was supposed to help navigate costs incurred during COVID-19 related processing delays. That included giving pork producers the necessary funds to manage additional maintenance costs incurred during delays.
“Hopefully, they’ll allow that to happen (here),” Fitzgerald said, adding that he hopes the provincial government can provide some relief on transportation costs as well.