By Jen Skerritt and Michael Hirtzer
Pigs bound for slaughter in the U.S. are getting stuck in Canada while their feed is stranded in the U.S. as new trucker vaccine rules exacerbate a shortage of drivers.
A significant number of hog producers are unable to ship their weanlings to Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas as trucks have been canceled this week due to a lack of drivers, said Cam Dahl, general manager of Manitoba Pork. Compounding the problem, some truck shipments of soybean meal from the U.S. to Manitoba are also being scrapped at a time when producers are relying on the imports to feed their animals after drought withered Prairie supplies, he said.
“If cancelations continue I’m not sure exactly where there’s going to be a home for all the weanlings,” Dahl said Thursday by phone.
New rules that came into effect Jan. 15 require that American truck drivers crossing into Canada be fully vaccinated, though only about half of U.S. drivers have gotten their shots. The U.S. is poised to introduce its own mandate on foreign travelers on Jan. 22, which will apply to truckers. The health orders are adding to the North American supply-chain turmoil that was already strained from labor shortages and pandemic-related disruptions.
Canadian produce importers have said that in less than a week, the new rules have boosted the cost of freight and added to difficulties stocking shelves with fruit and vegetables.
Pork packers in the U.S. already were paying higher prices for hogs after farmers reduced herds, in part because feed prices have soared. Fewer animals moving through the system should keep meat prices high, contributing to further food inflation.
Hog futures in Chicago climbed as much as 2.5% on Thursday to the highest since July.
The hog industry relies on “just in time” manufacturing, and Manitoba doesn’t have the capacity to feed and process a surge of hogs domestically, Dahl said. Last year, Manitoba shipped about 3 million weanlings to the U.S. to be finished, according to Manitoba Pork.
“Up until this point, we’ve recognized the need to keep product moving across our borders going both ways,” Dahl said. “We’ve recognized the need to move essential goods and we need to find a way to keep that happening.”