In agriculture, we thrive off of competition. The buying and selling of commodities is what we do. However, there are many different markets out there that one can explore.
Stewart Skinner, hog farmer from Listowel, Ont., raises his pigs for more of a niche market than many. There are three different markets that he and his wife raise livestock for: the certified organic market, the certified humane (similar to organic in terms of what you do in the barn, just without organic feed), and a Raised Without Antibiotics (RWA) system.
Skinner says the reason for breaking into a niche market was a need for more stable markets, so more focus could be put on the actual raising of the pigs.
“When I finished school in Guelph, I came home and I worked for my parents operation for a couple of years. That was a 350 sow, farrow-to-finish commercial pig farm. And then I ended up leaving the farm and working for a couple of years in town. Then when my wife and I were getting ready to start thinking about having a family, we decided to look at niche markets,” he explains, adding the commercial marketplace had become very volatile.
“We were able to find markets where the price wasn’t as volatile, so in return for doing some things above and beyond, or meeting some specifications, we were able to kind of buffer the things that we found most challenging with the hog business, and really just focus on raising the pigs themselves, instead of focusing on the feed price or the hog price.”
Meeting the required specifications in order to fit into these niche markets can be tricky, but as Skinner notes, it’s important to listen to the consumer, rather than telling them what they want. So when he and his wife were looking around at different programs that were out there, they felt the demand was really starting to grow in these specialty markets.
When it comes to difficulties that Skinner has faced in his four years of being in the certified organic/humane market, it’s keeping up to third party standards that can really differ from company to company.
“The biggest thing that is probably different in certified organic or certified humane is that beyond all the base-level national standards — like our Canadian Quality Assurance, or what’s now going to be called Canadian Pork Excellence — there’s third party audits as well. And different third parties have different standards,” he explains. “So for example — we might have one barn of pigs, but we might be audited for five different programs. So each program might have something specific they are looking for. For instance, in the certified humane, we might have to raise those pigs on straw versus slatted finishing barns. And they have to have intact tails. So there’s a fairly long list of perspective actions that have to take action in the barn for each of these chains that are set out by third parties.”