Concerns over potential animal health diseases is leading to more investment in preparedness.

The province of Saskatchewan and Sask Pork are investing $1 million in swine disease mitigation efforts.

A key concern for the pork industry is African Swine Fever, a viral disease that has been found in Africa, and some parts of Europe and Asia. 

To date, the disease has never been found in Canada, but should it occur somewhere borders would likely be closed and export markets shut down for the whole country.

Agriculture minister David Marit says while we hope it's something we never have to deal with here, having a contingency plan in place is key.

Marit says the funding announced will help support the creation of a specific cull line at the sow processing facility Donald's Fine Foods is building in Moose Jaw.

"It's just a separate line that we can, you know, bring the hogs in, do the euthanization that we have to, and then haul them out. So, we just felt this was the best way. Obviously, we hope that we never have to use it, but we felt this was obviously the proper way, the most humane way to deal with it. In the event that we have African swine fever somewhere in Canada, and the borders close, then obviously it really has an impact for our hog producers here in the province of Saskatchewan. As everyone knows, we export, 90 per cent of the hogs in this province."

The $1 million in funding includes $700,000 from the Province and $300,000 from Sask Pork.

Mark Ferguson, general manager of the Saskatchewan Pork Development Board, says Saskatchewan is very dependent on exports of pork and pork products.

He says having the swine market disruption plan in place is key and having a specialized cull line in place it will help deal with the potential surplus. 

Saskatchewan produces about 2.3 million animals per year, 1.8 million market hogs per year and export about 1/2 million weanling pigs per year to the U-S.

The province has a processing facility in Moose Jaw, the Thunder Creek facility owned and operated by Donald's Fine Foods.

Ferguson notes we also send a lot of hogs out of the province for processing. 

"So, we're reliant on interprovincial exports to get hogs processed and then we rely on international exports for markets for the pork once it is processed."

He says the specialized cull line is one of those investments we hope we never have to use.

"I think it's important from our producer's perspective to be prepared for it if we ever needed to. You know through covid disruptions to slaughter facilities, particularly in the U.S., showed us the fragility of our supply chains and how reliant we are on a very smoothly operating slaughter industry. So I think it's just prudent preparedness. I think as an industry our first priority is bio-security and prevention and making sure this disease never reaches our shore or our farms and that's where we're putting a lot of emphasis too and that's our best defence."

The specialized cull line is going into Donald's Fine Foods sow slaughter facility (North 49 Foods) in Moose Jaw. 

Neil Ketilson, Donald's Industrial Relations Manager says any disease that could basically cripple the industry and not allow us to export any product out of Canada is very, very significant. 

"Right now that Canadian industry I think, exports about 70 per cent of what we produce. So, you know, think about having to keep 70 per cent of the products here in Canada and what the implications would be to the marketplace, would be very, very significant. So you know, it's an extremely big deal and we're really grateful that the province stepped up and assisted in preparing and getting this done."

Plans including the specialized cull line that would only be used for this purpose have been incorporated into the facility.

Ketilson says work on the North 49 Foods plant is still underway, they've had some challenges sourcing some of the equipment with the challenges in the supply chain. 

He expects the Moose Jaw facility to be open this year.