By Connor Lynch
SALFORD — Hog producers are finally getting a chance to breathe, at least as far as prices are concerned.
Hog prices have risen sharply in the last few months as African Swine Fever, a devastating hog illness, has ravaged China’s gigantic stores.
The disease has no treatment or vaccine and has a mortality rate approaching 100 per cent. To date, China’s agriculture ministry has culled over 1 million hogs to try and contain the disease, and Dutch agricultural bank Rabobank estimated the disease will affect 150 to 200 million hogs in China. China’s total hog population before the outbreak was over 400 million hogs.
A terrible illness in the world’s largest supplier of pork has curtailed pork supply. Shorter supply means a stronger price, and producers in Ontario have been seeing it.
Salford-area hog farmer John de Bruyn, who also sits on the board of Ontario Pork, farms east of London. He said prices for his weekly shipment of hogs were as low as $1.20 per lb. on March 8. His last shipment in April went for $2.01/lb. That’s the difference between making and losing money, he said.
It was a meteoric jump, he said. “I’ve been farming for 30 years. This is probably the fastest price increase I’ve ever seen. For me, it’s a breath of fresh air. It means I can fix things I need to fix and invest where I need to.”
The long slog of low prices meant producers were more often thinking about what they couldn’t afford to do rather than what they could afford to do, he said.
Ontario Pork chair Eric Schwindt, who finishes 5,000 hogs at Wingham in Norfolk County, said the price bounce is welcome amongst producers, but not all the anxiety in the industry is gone. Questions remain as to how long the bounceback will last. The South China Morning Post reported that Chinese pork production will be depressed for at least two years and concerns that the fever could come to North America remain. According to China’s agriculture ministry, over 80 per cent of Chinese hog farms have decided not to replenish herds lost to the fever.
According to the Canadian Pork Council, the virus remains infectious for months in bone marrow and cured hams, and lasts nearly four months in frozen meat.
Most Ontario producers are treating the China crisis and price bounce as a chance to fill in holes from last year, said Schwindt. A crisis isn’t a basis for an industry, so producers are taking a wait-and-see approach on the overall demand for pork. “It’s too soon to tell,” he said.