Behind the Lines

Behind the Lines - April 2012

Two generations of the Stam family raising pork in Haldimand County exemplify how much of the province’s industry has chosen to deal with Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS).

At first, Tony and Vickie Stam thought they could live with it in their barns. But, gradually, PRRS’s effects became worse. Now they and partners nephew Kevin Stam and wife Christine are part of an effort to eliminate a disease that has become a scourge of the industry over more than a decade. Writer Mary Baxter tells the story of their successes and setbacks, starting on page 6.

Behind the Lines - February 2012

This month’s cover story is based on research conducted by University of Guelph Ridgetown campus economists Randy Duffy and Ken

McEwan. Their study, financed by the Agricultural Management Institute and Ontario Pork, compares the financial fitness of Ontario’s swine industry to its counterparts in other jurisdictions.

After the ongoing and continuous production and financial crises of the last few years, one might bill this as the industry’s financial stock-taking. Some might consider it navel-gazing.

The economists conclude that, while pig farms generally are carrying more debt than before the crises starting in 2006, their debts have been offset to some degree at least by increases in farmland equity.

Behind the Lines - December 2011

The pressure to set a definitive date for eliminating the use of sow gestation stalls is growing in the United States and now a campaign is being waged in next-door Manitoba. While there is no imminent threat that it will spill over into Ontario, farm leaders are bracing themselves. Coverage of this development here, by Senior Staff Editor Don Stoneman, begins on page 6.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is driving this issue and it has a branch in Canada. It appears that the HSUS even has the ear of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and, according to a report from Republican Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, it is involved in “preplanning” of an animal welfare symposium, ahead of the groups that represent livestock producers in the United States. David White, senior director, issues management, of the Ohio Farm Bureau and executive director of the Ohio Livestock Coalition who discussed HSUS activities at a swine seminar in Shakespeare in early November, confirmed the veracity of Moran’s allegations and that actions were being taken. “National farm and commodity organizations are voicing their apprehension to USDA about this and plan to meet with USDA officials to voice their concerns and request a modification of its original decision,” White told Better Pork’s editors in an e-mail.

One of the biggest interests pork producers always have is price. And economist Randy Duffy, our Second Look columnist this month, says nearly a year’s worth of data based on Ontario’s new price reporting information has allowed him to reach some conclusions about price equivalency with the United States. You can see Randy’s findings on our back page. BP

Robert Irwin

Behind the Lines - October 2011

Leaner is better. That has been the swine breeders’ mantra for many decades. Commercial producers wanted lean pigs that grew fast and economically. Packers didn’t want fat that they had to throw away. Consumers wanted lean meat.

Canada has been a leader in this trend, selling its genetics to breeders in other countries around the world.

Those gains didn’t come without a cost. Consumers haven’t always been happy with the product they got. At least some of them want fat throughout the meat for flavour.  This issue’s cover story is about the industry’s efforts to meet varying demands for different genetics using ultrasound technology that was not available a few years ago. The day when a farrowing barn operator can order semen to produce high or low marbling is here now. That story, by Don Stoneman, starts on page 12.

Our nutrition writer Janice Murphy continues to examine the role that spray-dried blood plasma in feed plays in the feeding of newly weaned pigs. There’s more evidence that points towards an enhanced immune function in stressed pigs. Her article starts on page 25.

In the first of a two-part series, veterinarian Ernest Sanford looks at external parasitic diseases that have largely been removed from the province’s pig herds.  The writer says their elimination is a cause for celebration.

And our European writer, Norman Dunn warns that in Germany some highly productive herds are taking longer to farrow, throwing breeding schedules out of whack. It’s proof once again that, when it comes to genetics, not all gains are straightforward.

Robert Irwin

Behind the Lines

It’s been tough the last few years to find a profit while marketing hogs. Many producers have dug deep to find ways to reduce their costs. Some have simply left the industry. For others, the answer has been to find a niche market serving a particular consumer need.

Niche marketing offers hard-pressed producers a chance to get something better than commodity prices for their hogs in a tough economic environment. But niche marketing isn’t easy, especially as it applies to antibiotic-free production – as producers pointed out when they spoke to writer Mary Baxter for this month’s cover story on two different niche programs.

Making the system work, keeping scrupulous records and maintaining extreme biosecurity are among the challenges. Protecting their niche is yet another. Baxter’s story starts on page 6.

A very few niche marketers are feeding Omega-3 to their pigs to benefit consumers but, as regular nutrition columnist Janice Murphy points out, feeding fish meal can benefit pork production as well. Murphy’s column on the first study of its kind to demonstrate that feeding sows a diet containing Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids from fish oil can increase litter size starts on page 21.

Veterinarian Ernest Sanford, our herd health writer, continues his series on diseases that strike pigs in the barn. This month, he looks at the best way to deal with hard-to-treat Mycoplasma hyorhinis, which often fails to respond to antibiotics.



Behind the Lines - June/July 2011

A little less than 10 years ago, the European Union succumbed to pressure to eliminate dry sow stalls and the same trend to build this style of barn in North America seemed to be insurmountable.

Why this management technique was not more widely adapted may be a matter of conjecture, but some producers in Ontario saw it as the wave of the future and did introduce this technology. In this issue, writer Mike Mulhern looks at what works now on Ontario farms. More straw handling may be involved and there will be more hands-on work with pigs, so a different management style is required, some producers warn. The pressure to move to loose housing for gestating sows is growing south of the border and in Canada as well.

Crateless farrowing may be the next development. Norman Dunn, our European contributor, addresses that phase in his monthly column, starting on page 40. And, on page 36, veterinarian Ernest Sanford warns there are signs that swine dysentery, thought to be eliminated in the 1990s, is making a comeback.

A keen topic of discussion in the rural countryside since it was announced in the provincial budget in March is the voluntary, self-directed Risk Management Program. Some producers have expressed concerns that it might result in countervail from our major trading partner, the United States. Patrick O’Neil, Ontario Pork’s marketing strategist, addresses that issue on page 46.



Behind the Lines - April 2011

When Better Pork staffer Don Stoneman visited Curtiss Littlejohn’s high health status farm to photograph his new biosecurity sign, some distance from his barns, the former chair of Ontario Pork told him that was as close as anyone had ever been allowed without changing footwear.

Biosecurity isn’t new to the pork industry nor is Stoneman new to biosecurity. Back in 1978, when on a student internship at the now defunct Farm & Country magazine, he visited the farm of Doug Macleod at Embro and then talked about high herd health status with veterinarian Dr. Harry Brightwell in Stratford. Showering in and showering out was a relatively new concept then. It isn’t now, but biosecurity means different things to different people. Persistent and costly diseases have been proven to be more easily transmissible than previously thought. That’s the justification for developing a national biosecurity standard put forward by the Canadian Swine Health Board.

Is there a financial benefit for producers to adopt these standards and be certified? The benefit will be in cost savings. Diseases like Atrophic Rhinitis and Mycoplasma Pneumonia that Brightwell told a young Stoneman about are no longer front and centre in Ontario’s pork industry. One can hope that the same can one day be written about the recent and current scourges of circovirus and porcine respiratory and reproductive syndrome.

I hope you will enjoy a different approach to Second Look this month: a perspective from the younger generation.



Behind the Lines - February 2011

U.S. Country-of-Origin Legislation (COOL) took effect in March 2009. Canada’s exports of live animals for finishing and slaughter then dropped dramatically. This month’s Second Look columnist, Ontario Pork’s Patrick O’Neil, examines the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement process that ensued. Although the matter is complex, O’Neil says one of the issues that could influence the outcome is a letter written by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in February 2009, which contained a threat of tougher regulations unless meat processors held themselves up to a higher standard than that outlined in the initial rule. You can see O’Neil’s analysis on our back page.

But if you think regulations are challenging here in Ontario, consider what Manitoba producers are facing. Almost two decades ago, it was hard to find a pork trade show anywhere in the world that didn’t have a Manitoba government exhibition extolling the advantages of pork production in that province.

In the past 10 years, however, Manitoba has introduced at least 40 new regulations affecting the industry, and more are on the way. Their marketing system has also changed and we occasionally hear talk about this affecting Ontario. Two years ago, Manitoba Pork Marketing began a merger with Saskatchewan’s SPI marketing group to create Hog Administrative Marketing Services and, although leaders there play it down, they don’t rule out the possibility they could open a satellite office in Ontario.

To discover whether there are any lessons to be learned from the Manitoba experience, we sent reporter Mary Baxter to meet with the province’s producers and industry leaders.

Her cover story begins on page 6.


Behind the Lines - December 2010

“Turbulence is life force. It is opportunity. Let's love turbulence and use it for change.” So said author and eternal optimist Norman Vincent Peale. He would have loved the Ontario pork industry.

In a search for views on the pending changes in marketing hogs in Ontario, Better Pork writer Don Stoneman asked producers what the separation of marketing and universal services, that takes place on Dec. 4, means to them. That story starts on page 6. A surprising number of producers weren’t able to be contacted.

In our Second Look column, University of Guelph research associate Randy Duffy explores Statistics Canada’s Farm Financial Survey. Using the financial yardsticks of Return On Assets and Return On Equity, he compares producers in Quebec, Manitoba and Ontario, and comes to some striking conclusions as to their comparative profitability. His column is on page 38.

As we were going to press, two more remarkable announcements came to light. One was the change in leadership at the Progressive Pork Producers Co-operative and owner of the third largest pork processing plant in the province, which packs about 14,000 hogs a week. The other announcement was the sale of Maple Leaf Food’s Burlington plant to an affiliate of Sun Capital Partners Inc. for about $20 million. More details of these two developments in the Ontario pork industry can be found at, the website of our sister publication, Better Farming. 

Had enough change yet? Keep your head up. To quote author Peale again; “The tests of life are not meant to break you, but to make you.” BP


Behind the Lines - October 2010

Last spring, just as the pall of a long downturn was lifting from the North American pork industry, field editor writer Mary Baxter visited North Carolina, the second largest American pork producing state, to see how it was faring.

The beginnings of the whirlwind of changes that have swept the North American pork industry in the last 20 years can arguably be taken back to the state of North Carolina. It is home to the world’s largest pork processing plant, owned by Smithfield Foods, the world’s biggest producer integrator and the instigator of three-site pork production. Ultimately, as Baxter points out in the story, beginning on page 6, the environmental ills that took place in North Carolina’s concentrated pork industry became the concerns of the industry across North America.

Our herd health expert, veterinarian Ernest Sanford, writes that an old disease has become a new disease – one that isn’t familiar to the current generation of pork producers. Its recurrence is being blamed on the use of distillers dried grains in sow rations. It’s something to think about as producers continue to strive to reduce costs in uncertain markets.

In our Second Look column, Oxford farrrow-to-finish producer John de Bruyn weighs in on the challenges producers face as Ontario Pork and its marketing arm become separate entities. John and wife Debbie are in partnership with his brother Dave who runs a large cropping operation. They are members of Progressive Pork Producers Co-operative. BP