The marketing board that oversees the hog industry in Quebec has given more time to the province’s pork producers and processors to come to an agreement on how to handle pigs coming from outside the province following the COVID-19-related closure of an Olymel pork processing plant.
Ontario pork producers dealing with a backlog of market-ready pigs are closely following the negotiations in Quebec, as the outcome will determine how many pigs from Ontario can be shipped into Quebec for processing.
Olymel, with support from Ontario Pork, has asked Quebec’s agricultural marketing board — the Régie des Marchés Agricoles et Aliments du Quebec — to ease provincial restrictions on processing pigs from other provinces, while Quebec pork producers are wanting to maintain a priority on pigs from within the province.
The Régie was scheduled to hold a telephone hearing on the issue, involving the province’s pork producer group — Les Éleveurs de porcs du Québec — and processors — Olymel, du Breton, and Aliments Asta — on Monday, April 6.
That meeting, along with a second public meeting on Wednesday, April 8, have been postponed, as the Régie has delayed making a ruling in favour of continued talks.
“The Régie agreed to give more time to the two parties to find an agreement,” said Olymel spokesperson Richard Vigneault, in a phone call on Tuesday.
Vigneault also indicated no date or deadline had been set for a decision or agreement.
Olymel exercised the force majeure clause to cancel the terms of its contracts with Ontario pork producers last week, after suspending operations in its plant at Yamachiche, Que. for 14 days on March 29 following positive COVID-19 test results from nine employees.
By invoking the clause, the company is no longer required to purchase market hogs under the terms of the contracts it had with producers in Ontario, who normally ship around 20 thousand pigs into Quebec for processing each week, for the duration of the pandemic.
Olymel has said it would like to continue to purchase Ontario hogs, at a reduced volume, proportionate to the company’s overall reduction in processing capacity.
“We will do as much as possible to transfer that pork to other outfits,” said Vigneault.
Ontario Pork chair Eric Schwindt said approximately 40 percent of the Ontario market pigs due for processing in Quebec last week found a new slaughter destination.
Schwindt described it’s a “compounding” problem, as the number of market weight pigs piles up with reduced slaughter capacity.
North American hog prices have plummeted as processing capacity has been reduced due to COVID-19, not only in Quebec, but in the U.S. as well. Tyson closed a plant in Iowa that processes 10 thousand head per day on April 6. Several other plants are also reportedly operating at reduced levels, or facing temporary closures for enhanced cleaning. Maple Leaf Foods also reported two positive COVID-19 cases among its employees on Tuesday.