Hog producer Puratone files for bankruptcy protection

Manitoba's third-largest hog producer, Puratone Corp., has filed for bankruptcy protection, leaving at least 350 jobs in limbo.

Manitoba's third-largest hog producer, Puratone Corp., has filed for bankruptcy protection, leaving at least 350 jobs in limbo.

Puratone filed for bankruptcy protection on Wednesday, according to court records. It has 30 days to restructure or sell its assets.

Headquartered in Niverville, Man., the company supplies about 500,000 pigs a year, says Karl Kynoch, chairman of the Manitoba Pork Council.

"This is huge. This just emphasizes what the industry is going through," he told CBC News on Thursday.

"The fact that Puratone has done this — they're reliant on solely hogs."

Officials with Puratone have not responded to CBC News requests for comment on Thursday.

Record losses

Puratone's move comes days after Big Sky Farms, Saskatchewan's largest pork producer, went into receivership.

Its financial problems are linked to drought in the U.S., which has led to high feed prices in Canada.

Record losses in Manitoba's hog industry has forced hundreds of producers to leave the business.

There were almost 5,000 hog producers in the province 15 years ago, but that number has dwindled to fewer than 500 today, according to the pork council.

"I've been expecting stuff like this to happen," Kynoch said.

"I'd say for the last two months, there's been a number of independent small farms that have been shutting down quietly."

Future uncertain

Puratone started in 1973 as a livestock feed marketer known as Niverville Feed and Farm Supply.

It has grown over the years to include hog production, animal nutrition, farm supply and agro-environmental research, according to the company's website.

Puratone has 40 hog production farms across Manitoba, as well as three feed mills that produce about 25,000 tonnes of livestock feed a year.

Kynoch said he has no idea who might by Puratone, given the crisis facing the North American hog industry.

"That's why it's hitting so hard this time and so fast … a lot of the hog producers don't have any cushion," he said.

"In the past … they had some cushion, where they could put some savings or some liquid assets into it. They don't have that no more."

Ripple effect

Kynoch said the ripple effect of Puratone's financial woes will be felt among meat processors, such as Maple Leaf's facility in Brandon, Man., and the trucking industry.

Upwards of 1,000 jobs in Manitoba indirectly rely on Puratone, he added.

A spokesman for Maple Leaf in Toronto told CBC News the company is not surprised by the troubles Puratone is facing.

Dave Bauer said it is no secret that the hog industry is facing challenging times, so the next six months will be difficult.

The good news, he said, is that Canada remains one of the lowest-cost locations in the world for pork production, and Maple Leaf is confident the industry will recover.

Bauer said it's too early to say if Maple Leaf would try to purchase Puratone, which supplies less than 10 per cent of the meat that is processed at the Brandon plant.

Maple Leaf has contingency plans in place to produce more hogs in Manitoba if Puratone goes out of business, he said.

With files from the CBC's Susan Magas