Larsen Packers Ltd. will stop processing fresh pork at its plant in Berwick, N.S., on March 26, resulting in the loss of about 40 jobs, the company said Thursday.

Company spokesman Mike Lee said it will not affect the plant's other processed-meat operations, which employ more than 300 people.

The decision is the result of a reduction in Maritime hog production, Lee said.

"There certainly has been a declining number of hogs in the Maritimes. There's also been a declining volume of hogs available out of Ontario, and with recent changes in Quebec, we've been unable to source hogs from there," he said.

"Overall, our numbers have dropped consistently over the past two years to a point where it's no longer feasible to operate."

Lee said the company will honour its agreements with local pork producers and keep taking their hogs for the next six months.

After March 26, local hogs will be trucked to the company's Maple Leaf plant in Burlington, Ont.

Lee said voluntary incentive packages will be offered to a limited number of senior employees in order to minimize the number of layoffs.

Devastating for P.E.I. producers

The closure is devastating news to P.E.I.'s remaining 25 hog producers, says the P.E.I Hog Commodity Marketing Board.

Tim Seeber, board executive director, said that between 700 and 800 hogs — or about half of the Island's hog production — goes to the Nova Scotia plant every week.

It will be more costly to ship the hogs to Ontario for processing, Seeber said, and will drive more Island producers out of business.

"We're going to have find other options, but they're not available in Atlantic Canada right now. It means we have to ship our hogs out of the Maritimes. It's going to be a greater cost; we're not going to get the same money for the hogs. Producers are just getting hit again with another blow that they just can't handle," he said.

Seeber said the declining number of hog and cattle producers on the Island has many negative repercussions on the province agriculture industry.

"We’ve lost over 50 per cent of our hog production here in Atlantic Canada. We've lost a similar amount of our cattle production. The loss of that livestock, in the last three years alone, amounts to a loss of feed grain that we could grow here of 139,000 acres a year," he said.

"When you lose that kind of feed grain markets, then you start to impact your ability to rotate potato crops, you're losing straw for your dairy industry, you get environmental impacts —  you get more runoff, less plow downs,  and you have to use more fertilizer chemicals because you don't have manure.

"The repercussions are limitless and I don't think we've really seen the edge of it yet."