Between distress and resignation: in the eyes of many pig farmers, the future is not rosy.

The last few weeks have been difficult for Quebec pork producers. There was the announcement of the closure of the Olymel slaughterhouse in Vallée-Jonction, in Beauce. Then the signing of an agreement between producers and processors which provides for a reduction in production of 1.1 million animals out of the 6.8 million raised annually in the province. And slaughterhouses will continue to pay below market price for animals for the next two years.

The crisis is so serious that an administrative tribunal must now rule on the establishment of a voluntary production withdrawal program with a kitty of 80 million.

Patricia Poulin, an independent breeder from Sainte-Marie, Beauce, watches the situation go and wonders what the future holds for her.

“It’s sad, it’s sad. Where is it going? I do not know. I don’t feel like the government wants to help us either,” she laments. “I have an 18 year old boy who is studying agriculture and I am very worried about his future. I wonder if I should advise him to do something else. »

Daniel Vachon, an independent breeder who, like Patricia Poulin, sent his pigs to be slaughtered in Vallée-Jonction, shares his discouragement. “I see the future as a disaster,” he says bluntly.

The Beauce region is the one with the largest number of independent pork producers. “Independent” producers are those who own their animals and their farm. “Integrated” producers are those who own the buildings, but whose animals are owned by integrators like Olymel.

“In the area here, it is here that there are the most small breeders who are not integrated, so surely they wanted to pull the rug out from under our feet [by closing Vallée-Jonction]”, thinks Patricia Poulin.

Since last summer, producers have granted a discount to slaughterhouses, a discount that has gone from $40 to $25 and then to $6.

“With the $40 discount, we saved Olymel and there, it is closing the slaughterhouse to us in the face,” laments Daniel Vachon. “We are on all fours in front of Olymel. The new marketing agreement is to save Sollio. »

Olymel is majority owned by the Sollio cooperative. In the pork industry, marketing is collective. On Tuesday, processors like Olymel and pork producers agreed on a new price formula.

Slaughterhouses will pay 4.5% less than the market price in the first year, an estimated discount of $12.50 per head.

In return, pig farmers get a share of any profits made by processors if the industry recovers.

If all breeders make losses because of the sale of their pigs at a discount, they will be compensated by the Farm Income Stabilization Insurance Program (ASRA), two-thirds of which is funded by Quebec taxpayers. Last year, the program paid no less than $240 million to breeders.

“We are living today the accumulation of four years of inaction: watching the Chinese market close, the COVID, the strike at Vallée-Jonction which lasted 18 weeks without government intervention to stop it,” sighs Mathieu Pilote, an independent pig breeder from Charlevoix who also sent his animals to the Vallée-Jonction slaughterhouse.

At the end of March, the agricultural union of Pig Breeders voted in favor of the establishment of a buy-back program for breeders who wish to withdraw from production for at least five years. With an $80 million compensation fund, it will aim to reduce the number of feeder pigs raised in the province by 1 million.

The Régie des Marchés Agricoles et Alimentaires du Québec – an administrative tribunal – will however have to give its approval for the production withdrawal mechanism to be put in place.

“We are going to follow this whole file because retiring from agriculture is still a huge mourning, whether voluntary or almost compulsory because of economic conditions,” explains Nathalie Roy, president of the organization Au cœur des farming families, who are also pig farmers.

She points out in passing that rank workers have made “vigilance calls” to all breeders in Beauce and Chaudière-Appalaches. “In that corner, I would tell you that the pressure is enormous. »

She recalls that the organization will be there to support producers who feel the need. “There is nothing more difficult to deal with than the unknown, and it is the unknown that undermines everyone. »