Niche markets, AFS, and developing agriculture in Kenya — a LIVE! with Stewart Skinner


Stewart Skinner, hog farmer from Listowel, Ont., (who you may have heard before on a Farmer Rapid Fire or two), joins us for today’s LIVE!

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  • Happy Friday! Stewart and his wife raise hogs just outside of Listowel. Does things a little bit different: focuses on niche markets and raises pigs for certified organic, certified humane, and RWA production system (they can’t use antibiotics)
  • What made them decide to go this route?
  • When Stewart finished school in Guelph he came home and raised hogs with his parents, then worked in town, then when he wanted to settle down and start having kids, the challenge presented in those niche markets was the volatility, but they found markets where the prices weren’t as volatile.
  • How do you meet these specifications? Beyond base-level national standards there are third-party audits as well.
  • Prescriptive actions that take place in the barn for each of these niche markets, and a lot of paperwork, the traceability has to be there too
  • What are consumers looking for right now, what are the demands you’re trying to fill?
  • Safe, nutritious, affordable food. Stewart’s tapping into the other 10 per cent. Enough data from the millennial generation where the demand is there.
  • Marketing? Direct. How has COVID-19 impacted that? The demand for certain niche products have increased, maybe a symptom of reduced traffic to food service.
  • Where is demand going to go in the future?
  • African Swine Fever. On-farm bio-security? It’s important, but other risk-vectors or ways that AFS will enter Canada, and the bigger picture, is the most terrifying. There’s no tool in the marketplace to protect against foreign animal disease and the border closures and economic risk is glaring to Stewart. No tool like crop insurance.
  • Hogs, physiologically different from cattle. The price you receive for a pig today isn’t as simple as “What’s the Chicago price, plus basis?” It’s more about what supply chain you’re in.
  • Own and raise hogs for five years before even dreaming of purchasing land. “Land is a horrible business and a wonderful investment.”
  • Renting a lot, to adjust to the high capital cost of land ownership. Pushed off owning any land until the hog entity can support the debt of land ownership.
  • 2019 was the first year Stewart did the “crop” work. Reducing tillage. Not a lot of changes to crop rotation.
  • CAD $ effect on hog production? Very impactful. Only changes a penny to change the revenue by $10
  • Stewart has travelled to Kenya and Nicaragua. Out of those trips Stewart decided that future travelling would involve more agriculture.
  • What do marathon running, farming in Kenya, and a dairy coop have in common?
  • Stewart’s first trip to Kenya changed his viewpoint on life, forever. Took him out of a dark place, a depressive episode, and made him realize how much he had to appreciate. Also, to start all of it, there was tea involved. And a Massey-Ferguson tractor dealership.
  • Stewart describes his journey in mental health and that “you don’t need stuff to be happy” was his reset on life and his catalyst for treating his depression. “If you have the people that you love, and a belly-full of food, what more do you need?”
  • Stewart writes to cope with his depression as well. He channels back to the things he has to ground himself: his wife, his kids, full bellies, a roof over their heads.

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