Beef producers need to open border

Members of the cattle industry doubt Canadians can eat enough beef to save it.
Concern was sparked by a new government program to stimulate the Canadian beef industry while the American border remains closed to Canadian beef.
“Until the border opens up, nothing is going to change. There’s not the population to consume the beef we have,” said Ron Burndred, owner of Innisfail Meat Packers.
“We need the borders open. We really do. It’s sad.”
A single case of mad cow disease confirmed in Alberta a month ago shut down the industry. More than half of Canada’s beef industry is located in Alberta.
Burndred’s freezer is full but he said it’s been hard for people in the meat industry to get the beef cuts consumers want.
Burndred, who only sells Alberta beef, said producers should be compensated because they are the mainstay of Alberta’s economy. But he doesn’t know how much good it will do. “It could be as good as gun control.”
Details of the $460-million Canada-Alberta Temporary Slaughter Cattle Disaster Assistance Program to compensate producers were announced Wednesday.
Producers who sell their feed cattle for slaughter will be compensated on a sliding scale based on the difference between the U.S. price and the average weekly market price in Canada.
Since May 20, Canadian prices have dropped about 30 per cent.
Producers will cover a minimum of 10 per cent of cattle price declines. Provinces will cover 40 per cent of the remaining difference and the federal government will pay 60 per cent.
Alberta is contributing $100 million to the program. It will continue during an adjustment period after the U.S. border reopens.
“I think it’s a very good program, but it’s a temporary measure and not a salvation,” said Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Luke Ouellette.
Worried constituents were calling him with questions about the compensation program.
Glen Armitage, president of Armitage Feedlots Inc. near York, said it’s been getting worse every day for producers.
“It couldn’t happen at a worse time of the year. This is the time people barbecue,” Armitage said.
On Thursday he was still gathering information on the compensation plan, but he suspected more government funding would be needed.
Bob Boulton has 250 cow-calves in York County. Compensation is aimed at feedlots with animals ready for slaughter, not cow-calf operations.
Cow-calf operators sell their animals in the fall so they’ll have to wait to find out what their future will be.
“The moment of truth will come in November,” Boulton said.
He said compensation was a good move on the part of the government. It has promised the cheques will be sent out as quickly as possible, but Boulton said he just received compensation for last summer’s drought a few months ago.
Elmer Stoyberg, a cow-calf producer and York County councillor, said producers faced high feed costs during the winter because of the drought.
“A lot of these cattle cost more in feed than they’re worth,” Stoyberg said.
Compensation is a start to dealing with this year’s cattle crisis, but he couldn’t guess how long it will take to move through the backlog of beef that’s accumulated this spring.
Thankfully, Canadians still have confidence in their beef industry, he added.
“If anyone who is a consumer out there with a deep freeze, now would be the time to fill it up.”
But it had better not be American beef. Eastern Canadians generally get their beef from the United States because of their proximity to American producers, he said.
“If the border is shut off for our exports, I hope we’re not importing beef,” Stoyberg said.
Blair Vold, who operates the Canadian Satellite Livestock Auction in York, doubts the U.S. border will reopen anytime soon and when it does it won’t be business as usual.
“We’re going to be labelled. It’s going to change our whole industry,” Vold said.
Otto Streberg, a buyer for feedlots in the Camrose area, wondered if it was the beginning of the end for feedlot operations in Canada.
Banks are the only ones who win with compensation because farm loans will be repaid, he said.
“If we don’t get the border open, we’re dead in the water. It doesn’t matter what we do,” Streberg said.
“We can’t eat our way out of this,” Boulton said.