Alberta beef producers and cattle operators still face a rough road, but the industry’s organizations are doing all they can to lobby government to ensure there is a future ahead for everyone.
That was the gist of the update provided during an online town hall on June 11 hosted by Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) that included the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association (ACFA), Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) and the Alberta Auction Markets Association.
ABP board chair Kelly Smith-Fraser, who ranches near Pine Lake just east of Red Deer, explained the town hall was important for the industry as a whole to provide producers with what they have been doing to advocate for them and speak directly about what has been going on lately.
“During the pandemic, we have been listening closely and working hard to take the messages from producers to the government, the media and the public. We have worked closely with other organizations to bring that Alberta perspective and to speak for the interests of Alberta producers,” Smith-Fraser said.
“As we continue to work together through the impacts of the pandemic, you can all be confident that all industry organizations are fighting to protect your interests as Alberta cattle and beef producers.”
She added the province’s three processing plants — Cargill in High River, JBS in Brooks and Harmony Beef in Balzac — are running at almost normal, currently around 95 per cent capacity.
“While processing capacity has steadily increased the last few weeks and prices have been relatively strong, markets are still vulnerable to disruptions and our industry relies on what these plants do,” said Smith-Fraser.
“So, we strongly encourage producers to take steps available to mitigate risk themselves.”
The ABP and ACFA, along with the CCA at the federal level, have also been strong in their lobbying efforts, which have garnered some success.
A total of $43 million, $17 million from the province, has been announced for two programs — a feed-cost offset of $12 million to compensate for extraordinary costs for maintenance rations for cattle held back between May 1 and June 30 as well as a bid set-aside program that would provide a weekly bid process that producers could access.
“The ACFA along with the ABP, CCA and producer representatives have been working and meeting almost weekly with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry and AFSC on how the program will work. Our main point continues to be that while there is a current backlog, the bigger issue will be this summer when more cattle will enter the system,” explained ACFA board chair Greg Schmidt, who owns Schmidt Livestock near Barrhead.
With the most recent figures showing a backlog of about 130,000 fed-cattle, Schmidt added, “Covering feed costs is important, the bigger issue is market and price stabilization.”
All three industry organizations are also hoping continued talks with AFSC will lead to reductions in premiums for the livestock price insurance program, including cow-calf and background sectors in financial support programs and changes or outright elimination of the reference margin limits with regards to program supports. In addition, the ACFA has also been working on the issues with the temporary foreign worker program to help processors.
One positive to come from the partnership work of ABP and ACFA was the campaign to thank all of the essential plant workers for their dedication and hard work.
“Cargill and JBS played the video in their plants. It’s one example of how our industry has come together and collaborated effectively during the pandemic,” added Schmidt.
During the question and answer session, the focus turned toward resiliency of the processing industry being key to maintaining beef producers and looking at the potential of adding capacity for smaller processors.
Dennis Laycraft, CCA executive vice-president, explained a large of part of getting the industry back to normal is by making changes that benefit the entire industry.
“The best way is to keep the plants operating and keep the employees safe, but it also comes down to ensuring producer have quick access to tools they can work with as the sooner decisions are made to manage a situation the more able the industry can get through it effectively,” he said, adding that quicker decisions and anticipating challenges would go a long way to helping the market function effectively.
“By keeping the North American meat industry functioning well, the better chance we have to get through this with fewer losses. Candidly, as a global exporter, if are able to make those changes and continue to process beef safely for the next 18 months, it will make Canada a preferred supplier due to less risk involved.”
Helping with that is the federal government announcement June 12 of a $77.5 million Emergency Processing Fund for retrofits, safety changes, increasing capacity plus automation and modernizations of food processing facilities. However, Laycraft said even with the program, more efforts will be made to get more needed changes for the beef industry.
“We are going to continue to press hard through the summer and no one is taking their foot off the gas pedal just because things have become more manageable in the last few weeks.”