Alberta pork producers to receive government funding due to Olymel backlog

Click to play video: 'Hog producers welcome government support following processing backlog in Alberta' Hog producers welcome government support following processing backlog in Alberta
WATCH ABOVE: New AgriRecovery funding from the federal and provincial government is expected to alleviate some feed costs for producers affected by the Olymel shutdown in Red Deer. Eloise Therien has the details. – Mar 9, 2021

New AgriRecovery funding is being made available for hog farmers in Alberta, following a major backlog of around 100,000 hogs in recent weeks.

The $4-million program is funded 60 per cent from the federal government, and 40 per cent from the Government of Alberta.

“The Canada-Alberta hog recovery initiative is proposed to address disruptions to hog-processing capacity and backlogs in the supply chain,” said CEO of the Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC) Darryl Kay.

Back in May 2020, the AgriRecovery Program aided the livestock sector when a backlog occurred at cattle feedlots, providing $42.3 million through a set-aside program.

Read more: Olymel temporarily closes Alberta pork plant because of COVID-19 outbreak

Now, a major backlog in the hog industry comes as a result of the shutdown of Olymel, one of the country’s largest meat packing companies.

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The Red Deer pork plant saw hundreds of active COVID-19 cases, forcing a shut down on Feb. 15. They resumed operations last Thursday.

While the facility was temporarily shuttered, producers who typically shipped market-ready hogs to Olymel were left without anywhere to send their product.

“The problem is it’s not like grain or anything, these hogs, they have to move,” said Stan Vanessen, the owner of AVE Farms near Picture Butte, Alta.

Brian Markert, owner of Premium Farms in Vulcan, Alta., says he ships just less than half of his hogs to Olymel. His farm was able to adjust, and eventually send some product outside the province.

“In the past we’ve raised pigs outdoors in biotech shelters, and so we still have those available to us and we have been putting them out there,” Markert explained.

“In the meantime, (for) some of those guys that don’t have that extra space, it’s (real) tough.”

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Olymel meat plant resumes operation in Red Deer' COVID-19: Olymel meat plant resumes operation in Red Deer
COVID-19: Olymel meat plant resumes operation in Red Deer – Mar 4, 2021

Markert says he’s glad to see the government acted so swiftly in making the funding announcement.

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“As producers we’re very appreciative of that,” he said, adding it currently costs around $1.25 per day to feed a hog. “(The funding) would cover about 75 per cent of the feeding costs, which is better than nothing.”

While any support is welcomed, Market admits he wishes some of the funding came from Olymel itself.

“I really feel that it should be the packers paying for it, not our government,” he said. “The packers have been making record profits for the last five years. Their margins have been very, very, very good.”

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Global News reached out to Olymel for comment. In a statement, the company said the outbreak has lead to significant hardship for it and its employees.

“Olymel is interested in the wellbeing of its independent hog suppliers and our relationship with them,” the company said.

“Olymel has been responsive to our hog suppliers, having amended our supply contracts over the last number of years, including changes as recently as December 2020 all in favor of producers.

“While Olymel is not paying for hogs/pork we are not receiving, we have temporarily adjusted our marketing arrangements to accommodate for the larger animals we expect to be coming to market,” the company said.

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The statement added that the company’s own hog production would be carefully managing supplies to provide “additional space for independent producers to clear the backlog sooner incurring increased expense to our own hog production.”

Read more: New death connected to Olymel COVID-19 outbreak as Alberta Health removes previous fatality

Vanessen, who doesn’t ship to Olymel, says the impacts of the closure were felt right across the industry.

“The reality is, everybody that’s left in this industry is in this together, we’re working as a unified producer group,” Vanessen said.

A spokesperson with the Agriculture Financial Services Corporation told Global News they are currently working with Alberta Pork to roll out an easy accessible application process for the funding by Friday.

Hog producers who own market-ready hogs intended for processing between Feb. 8 and March 31, 2021, which were held back from shipping do to reduced processing capacity, are eligible to apply for this initiative.

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