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Imports hammering B.C. pork

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

B.C. pig farmers are finding they can't compete with lower-priced imports. (REUTERS)

B.C. pig farmers are finding they can't compete with lower-priced imports. (REUTERS)

B.C.’s pork industry is suffering a steady decline in production because few people are paying the higher prices of buying local, according to a director with the B.C. Pork Producers Association.

The problem, said association director Rolf Soth, is multi-faceted. A recent hit came from financial difficulties during the 2008 recession — after which there were several buy-back programs the government initiated to reduce farmed pig populations, he said.

That took out about a quarter of the farmers.

But the longer-term issue of imported pork has driven many out of the business, including Soth, who has taken a three-year break after farming hogs for nearly 30 years.

“B.C. is a totally different province than Alberta and Saskatchewan — those are all exporting provinces, they’re overproducing hogs — B.C. only produces 10% of its consumption. The other 90% is shipped here.”

The province, according to Statistics Canada, had 817 hog farms in 2006. That number dropped to 627 in 2011.

That doesn’t show the full picture, Soth said. There are only about 20 large commercial pig farms in B.C., each producing thousands of hogs for slaughter each year when at one time there would’ve been twice as many.

Many of the other reported farms have just a few pigs, often for tax purposes, he said.

“It just wasn’t feasible, you couldn’t make a living from raising pork, pigs,” Soth said of his former operation that marketed 7,500 pigs annually.

“I remember shipping hogs and having about a $20-30 more cash cost in that pig than I was getting from the marketplace ... everybody was making money, I was losing $30 a hog.”

Volatile grain prices, coupled with a lack of slaughter facilities in B.C., have thrown dirt onto the coffin, he said.

Soth is now considering operating a far-smaller organic pig farm that could potentially sell for a better price. He urged consumers to look for local labels, or for labels with Chilliwack and Langley companies Johnston and Britco for locally produced pork.


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