Both the U.S. and Canada started 2022 off with mandates requiring non-citizens to be fully vaccinated before entering their respective countries, a move that has stranded livestock en route from Canada to the U.S. and vice versa, and further complicated existing supply chain issues across the continent.
According to a Department of Homeland Security release, the mandate says anyone wanting to enter the U.S. at land borders or ferry terminals at the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders must provide proof of vaccination whether they are traveling for essential or non-essential reasons.
According to Bloomberg, less than half of U.S. truck drivers are fully vaccinated.
The initial Canadian mandate caused a massive pile up of trucks at the border and chaos amongst agriculture producers whose livelihood is tightly intertwined with international trade.
This issue has been specifically damaging to the hog industry, which operates on a specific and very tight time table, as well as open trade and shipping between Canada and the U.S.
A history of trade
Though the U.S. is a net exporter of hogs, the U.S. has historically imported millions of live hogs from Canada for finishing.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. imports of Canadian hogs peaked in 2007, at about 10 million head.
“At its peak in 2007, Canadian imported hogs accounted for about nine percent of U.S. federally inspected (FI) hog slaughter,” according to USDA. “Since that time, live imports have not accounted for more than five percent of FI slaughter.
USDA notes in the U.S., several factors combine to generate significant U.S. demand for Canadian finishing animals.
“These factors include available slaughter capacity, abundant feed supplies and environmental regulation favoring the construction of hog-finishing facilities in Corn Belt states.”
Stuck on both ends
The Canadian Province of Manitoba regularly ships hogs to Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas for finishing.
Cam Dahl, general manager of Manitoba Pork notes, “A significant number of hog producers are unable to ship their weanlings to Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas as trucks have been canceled due to a lack of drivers.”
It is estimated that Manitoba alone shipped three million head of hogs to the U.S. in 2021. Hog futures on the Chicago Board climbed 2.5 percent, the highest they have been since July of 2020.
Dahl notes there is not enough infrastructure in place to finish out that many hogs in Canada. Following a drought across the Canadian prairies, many northern producers have relied on U.S. grains trucked in from the Midwest to feed a variety of livestock including hogs and cattle.
While corn has continued to be brought into the country via rail, many truckers hauling in dried distillers’ grains are stuck in Montana, unable to cross the border without being fully vaccinated.
The pork industry has experienced loads of uncertainty since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. From labor shortages, to increasing cost of freight, many producers have reduced their herd sizes, which has kept the number of animals in the system lower than normal and the price of pork higher. Futures have risen for five consecutive sessions.
“The industry still isn’t functioning normally, though the processing slowdown means a tighter pork pipeline currently and bigger picture we are trending into seasonally smaller hog supplies,” brokerage StoneX said in a note to clients.
Unlike the beef production and slaughter, the window in which hogs can be slaughtered is extremely limited. The hog market relies on “just right” timing or the entire system spirals into a meltdown.
It is estimated that about 350,000 pigs were euthanized on U.S. farms in 2020.
Famed Colorado State University Animal Scientist Dr. Temple Grandin calls 2020 a disaster on all fronts of the pork industry.
“It was a complete mess, a terrible mess in terms of animal welfare,” Grandin says. “It was a horrible waste of food. There were food kitchens begging for food and we sent pigs to the dump.”
The trucking industry is also seeing the result of years-long issues coming to fruition.
According to Jon Samson of the American Trucking Association, the trucking industry is currently short 80,000 drivers.
Samson warns by 2030 and at current trends, the gap could grow to 160,000. Nearly one million new drivers will need to be trained and hired in the next decade to keep pace with increased consumer demand and an aging workforce.
As barriers of entry into the already strained trucking force increase, the agriculture sector is staring down another year of uncertainty.
Callie Hanson is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.