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Big Sky Farms Inc. is the largest hog producer in Saskatchewan, employing more than 400. (CBC)

Saskatchewan's largest hog producer has applied for creditor protection.

Big Sky Farms Inc. of Humboldt said Tuesday it had applied for protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act.

The company primarily blames the downturn in the North American pork market, but says there are other factors as well.

The H1N1 swine flu pandemic has led to fewer people buying pork, but Big Sky has also been hurt by the rising Canadian dollar and American trade barriers, company officials said.

"While today's actions are difficult, they will, in the long term serve the varied interests of our many stakeholders, including our dedicated employees, by making the company healthier overall," president and CEO Casey Smit said in a news release.

The company said it operates about 40 hog facilities in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, employing more than 400 people.

Big Sky will continue normal operations while it is under court-ordered protection and all employees will remain on the job, Smit said.

He also said the company will be reorganizing so it can access federal government loan programs.

Former Big Sky president Florian Possberg, who is no longer with the company, said he is saddened by this latest turn of events in an industry that has been struggling for years.

"Not only is Big Sky the largest pork producer in Saskatchewan, it's the second largest in all of Canada. So you know, it really underlines … the challenges our industry has," Possberg said.

The changes at Big Sky may also represent bad news for the Saskatchewan taxpayer. The province has invested $30 million in the company and owns 63 per cent.

Saskatchewan government officials confirmed to CBC News on Wednesday that the province's equity is now at risk.