While the hog industry remains buffeted by high grain prices and, at least in Saskatchewan, a tight labour market, the longer term concern has to remain public perception of the industry.
The disconnect of consumer from farm reality continues to grow.
Even here on the Canadian Prairies the trend toward urbanization moves methodically on.
For some reason we, as people, are drawn to large centres like moths to a flame, even in a time when technology should allow more and more jobs to be carried out from remote locales if we so chose.
But that is a discussion for another column.
This is about what urbanization may mean to the hog sector.
Actually the pressures the hog industry is likely to see grow into the future is the same one chicken producers and even dairy farmers will face.
There is concern in the public about high density, closed in housing, for livestock.
While there are reasons for farrowing crates, and dry sow gestation stalls, for hogs and laying cages for hens and three-a-day milking for cows, those reasons are lost on someone living in the heart of the urban sprawl of Los Angeles, Toronto, or increasingly even Saskatoon.
There are of course efforts to better educate, including starting young with the concept of ‘agriculture in the classroom’ but that process will be slow to change attitudes at best.
Let’s not forget education focused for decades against racism and has had at best mixed results depending on where you are.
There is an old adage about perception being reality, and that is an issue for farmers.
Most of the general public are probably rather ambivalent to the issue of livestock housing, but when a question is asked that amounts to whether sows should have room to move around, or be tied in a stall for weeks on end, you can guess where most will check for an answer.
And it is that sort of reaction groups actively seeking to change how farmers raise stock play upon.
That is the dilemma farmer’s face.
They realize the opponents to high density production are a minority, but with an ability to rally the non-committed to their cause rather easily.
And if that reaction goes far enough to entice legislation to change regulations, farmers recognize it would merely be a first step for their opponents.
The battle might be about gestation stalls, or laying cages, but the most vocal of farm opponents want a complete dismantling of livestock systems.
Since that is the ultimate end goal, voluntary change by farmers to appease opponents will not likely help. It will simply be seen as a victory to rally opposition on to their next objective.
And so livestock producers face a conundrum, one without an easily visible solution which will fall in their favour.
Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.