In terms of agriculture on the Canadian Prairies I have always thought livestock should be more significant than it has been.
In that regard I felt the push to produce more hogs, a thrust made a decade ago now, made sense.
There was the land base to produce the feed and handle the manure as a fertilizer, as well as to keep barns relatively isolated to keep the smell issue somewhat under control.
At the time there was a need for rural jobs too.
Unfortunately hog production had evolved beyond manageable sized operations.
I say that not in terms of handling production in a unit where a thousand plus sows are kept, but rather in managing the cash flow such units require.
The larger a production unit the more borrowed cash involved. When hogs are profitable scale has little impact.
But when losses are being experienced, and there are always downturns in commodity pricing, they mount quickly on larger operations. A dollar loss per animal on a thousand head is likely manageable for any producer.
But when a single business entity is producing a million hogs a year the pool of red ink gets pretty deep pretty quickly.
Obviously in terms of hog production things went south very quickly on the Canadian Prairies. High grain prices and a tighter employee situation pushed operating costs way up, and when those pressures would put on barns carrying significant debt load it was a recipe for bankruptcy.
The long term situation for the hog sector remains a huge question mark, although the basic precepts of grain growing capacity and land base remain relevant.
And then there is the case of sheep.
The sector is one where Canadian production has long been less than consumption, even though Canadians aren’t exactly noted for eating piles of lamb chops.
Of course with the new wave of immigrants, many coming from cultures where lamb rates far higher on the menu, demand will only grow.
So the potential for lamb production would seem poised to spike higher.
Yet production at this point in Canada is at best unreliable, at least in terms of year-round supply.
Producers at least appear poised to create a federal marketing organization to facilitate industry growth. The federal government is likely to approve creation of a national lamb purchasing and marketing co-operative.
Such a co-operative could help the industry better coordinate supply to meet domestic demand.
The real work though will be how to build year-round production capacity as the sheep sector faces the same production pressures as does the hog sector, high grain prices topping the list.
Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.