HyLife Foods experiencing change and growth


By Ken Waddell


On Thursday, the popular social media site, Facebook, lit up with a number of local Neepawa area comments about shift changes at HyLife Foods.

The Neepawa pork processing plant, that employs 1,050 people, has announced changes in its Friday kill floor shift, which in turn will cause corresponding changes in its Monday cut floor shift. The plant is reducing the number of hogs on those shifts and therefore, reducing hours on  those shifts.

HyLife Foods CEO Guy Baudry, in an interview with The Neepawa Banner, Baudry said the cutback is temporary and part of a move to increase weekly output. “We are  ramping up from 6,100 hogs a day to 6,500 hogs a day,” he said. Currently, HyLife doesn’t have 6,500 hogs a day coming out of their barns.

Baudry indicated the changes will work their way into the system throughout the fall. “The cutback is also affected by a seasonal thing. While this summer hasn’t been super hot, the hogs in the barns don’t gain as fast in the hot weather and so our weights are down a bit,” he said. 

HyLife is delaying the delivery of hogs a bit by cutting back on the Friday kill. By giving the hogs more time on feed in the barns, the average weight of hogs going to slaughter will rise over the next few weeks and it’s anticipated higher numbers of hogs and heavier hogs will be coming to the plant in the near future.

Fuelling the Facebook rumours about cutbacks was this week’s announcement by Russia that they placing a one year ban on food imports from several countries, including Canada. The ban includes pork and Russia is an important Hylife customer. The Russian market had been increasing. On Thursday, Baudy said  that, “Hylife is still gathering information on what the ban means for Hylife but it was expected. Russia is the fourth largest export market for Canadian pork.”

Warring factions in Russia and The Ukraine have caused several countries, including Canada, to impose travel and other sanctions on Russia. The food import ban now imposed by Russia is just another step in  the escalation of tensions between Russia and other countries. Pork supplies are generally down across Canada and the U.S, due partly to the PED disease. PED is Porcine epidemic diarrhea  and it has decimated hog herds in some areas.

Baudry said HyLife barns have not been affected so far. Baudry said the North American market is strong, partly due to the effects of PED and overall, the global market is strong. Baudry concluded, “We will switch gears and go to alternate markets.”

Earlier this year, Trevor Lizzotte, the VP of Sales at HyLife said in a speech, "HyLife bought Springhill Farms hog plant in 2007 and at that time, they were processing about 300,000 hogs per year with about 350 employees. Now we process 32,000 per week." Lizzotte said sales are now up to $450 million per year and the product goes to Japan, Russia, South America and Korea.

"Twelve to 15 per cent goes to Canada and about 10 per cent goes to the United States,” he said. If Baudry’s plans work out, Lizzotte will be extra busy securing more market share in Canada and the U.S. take up the slack caused by the Russian trade ban.

In contrast, the Maple Leaf hog plant at Brandon has its own set of circumstances to deal with. In a July 18 edition of the Western Producer, it was reported that had slowed down it’s afternoon shift. Morgan Curran-Blaney, the manager of the Brandon plant said, “Our afternoon shift runs at half speed,” he said. 

Curran-Blaney, who spoke at the Keystone Agricultural Producers’ general council meeting July 10, painted a picture of a state-of-the-art plant crippled by the provincial hog barn moratorium and threatened by changes to federal temporary foreign worker rules. The provincial moratorium is forcing the plant to run well below capacity, while federal restrictions on temporary foreign workers might prevent it getting back up to speed in the future.

“We need 20,000 (more) hogs a week,” said Curran-Blaney. That would bring the plant to peak efficiency, he said. Those pigs are missing because the moratorium prevents farmers from building new barns. If an old barn closes or a farm fails, a new one can’t be built to replace its production. Instead of a weekly hog slaughter of 90,000 head or more, the plant is down to 65,000 to 70,000 head.