First I thought I would title my editorial: “The Darwinian Premise of the Rapid Transformation to Group Breeding.” Then I thought to myself: If I’m going to write it, it might as well be read. So I chose a catchier title, what do you think?
A Rapid Transformation
No need to go back too far, it was in January 2013. Olymel wasn’t in the business of producing pork prior to the acquisition of Big Sky Farms in western Canada. But it has now become the biggest hog breeder in Canada. Let’s just say that after a few lean years, for both farmers and processors, major changes were needed. These changes involved supply guarantees for processing plants and adapting the production chain to best meet consumer needs and ensure the continuity of all those concerned.
Due to circumstances (bankruptcy), the actions undertaken in western Canada to implement these changes included acquisitions and the implementation of a structure that was 100% integrated. Quebec and Ontario took a different path. Various partnership models were attempted: Business mergers, the creation of joint ventures, a supply contract, group hog nursery of Fermes boréales, cooperative pork industry and Coop pork. So many different associations adapted to the group breeding orientation.
The Darwinian Premise
In the collective spirit there is a long-standing belief that the economy is based on the Darwinian model of natural selection, where only the strongest survive, where competition is constantly driving businesses to do better. In Canada, we export 70% of our pork production. So why do we spend so much energy supporting an individualistic business model with our local competitors when our true rivals are beyond our borders? The Darwinian theory is obviously based on competition among the species, but it depends entirely on the interactions between them – such as mutual aid – to explain their survival.
If Canadian pork has such a good reputation across the world (especially in Japan), the primary components responsible for this distinction are the animals derived from the collaboration and specifications that meet consumer needs. Among the key elements is Coop pork, Nagano, DuBreton niche market pork as well as those produced by integrated businesses such as F. Ménard, who worked long and hard to improve meat quality long before it reaches the slaughterhouse. Other breeders are also producing a product of superior quality. However, quality varies from one farm to another according to their means of operation. Consider, for example, the content of the food’s fatty acid, genetics (YL x Duroc), housing, handling, fasting, health, etc.
Without constancy of quality and a reliable story to tell, it’s hard to value Quebec pork any other way than by promoting local purchases and focusing on animal welfare, on good practices that reduce its environmental footprint, on observing the standards of the AQC® food safety program implemented by the Canadian Pork Council and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s controls. This is a good story. We need to keep it alive for those 30% of sales in Canada.
In this respect, we would benefit from joining together to reduce our production costs, promote the quality and story our product throughout the world, and generate greater revenues for all involved. It’s the progressive approach we’ve been advocating for the past few years with Coop pork and it’s also what we are pursuing with our various partners with group breeding. For the greater good of our owners – members of La Coop, Quebec’s agricultural producers, - we can count on more teammates to ensure the continuity of the business.
There was a time when some people referred to us as being green, those days are gone. We’ve evolved since then and have taken on other shades. Without necessarily giving up the green, we could say that we’ve taken on the colours of the rainbow, a symbol of diversity and openness to the world.
Étienne Hardy, agronomist, MBA
Pork production, Eastern Canada