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For the Manitoba pig industry, the past five years have been biblical in their awfulness

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For Manitoba's huge pig industry, the last five years have been biblical in their awfulness. A rising dollar, U.S. protectionism and soaring feed coasts have reaped a harvest of bankruptcies. And now this—a rap on pollution and animal cruelty that could break the industry's back.

Ian Willms/Report on Business magazine

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Andrew Dickson is the general manager of Manitoba Pork, the province's hog promotion agency. He recalls one battered farmer, a Swiss immigrant, who invested heavily and accumulated barns and debt—"and gradually fell out the bottom," he says. "He left the province bankrupt and embittered."

Ian Willms/Report on Business magazine

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Marg Rempel runs a medium-sized farm in Landmark, Manitoba, with 450 sows that produce 11,000 market pigs a year. She says "it's shocking how little of what the consumer pays ends up in the hands of the farmer."

Ian Willms/Report on Business magazine

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In 2005, George Matheson decided that he had enough of losing money raising pigs at rate of 1,200 a year. Today, Matheson and his wife, Shelley, house just 20 sows and about 200 feeders, as well as some chickens

Ian Willms/Report on Business magazine

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George Matheson now sells free-range meat directly to the customer.

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George and Shelley Matheson's operation is so small that on a recent morning when one of their half-dozen egg customers came to the door for a dozen, Shelley could just rustle up 11.

Ian Willms/Report on Business magazine

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The rarest thing in the Manitoba pork business: Arthur, the pig who became a pet. George Matheson says Arthur has ballooned to 800 pounds (from 600) making him too "boarish" for market and too fat to caress his favourite sows, who can no longer support him on their backs.

Ian Willms/Ian Willms for Report On Business

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While some of the province's pig farms have simply been abandoned, others have seen their owners downsize or switch to other lines of work.

Ian Willms/Report on Business magazine

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Five years ago, HyLife Foods was a Mennonite co-operative; now, as the largest independent pork producer and processor in Manitoba, it has survived the industry's wave of bankruptcies by becoming a paragon of vertical integration.

Ian Willms/Report on Business magazine

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HyLife Foods has expanded to a point where it is selling 1.4 million animals a year—nearly 4,000 a day—to the restaurant, dining tables and lard factories of the world.

Ian Willms/Report on Business magazine

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HyLife's plant is an object lesson in the broader dimensions of the industry: the vast scale, the slim margins, the global reach, the fastidious demands of the marketplace, the ever-pressing ethics of doing things right, of respecting the animals, not to mention the workers and those who will eventually consume the pork.

Ian Willms/Report on Business magazine

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