Feedlots struggle with ban

Ottawa is dragging its feet in coming up with compensation for cattle producers hit by the mad cow scare, says a feedlot operator.
“They spent a whole bunch of money on SARS and they forget about other sectors of the economy. They forget we exist out here,” said Glen Armitage, president of Armitage Feed Lots Inc. southwest of York.
But there were signs Monday that help may be on the way. Top managers in Agriculture Canada are working out the details, a government source told The Canadian Press.
‘‘They’re talking about it, trying to come up with a vehicle to get money out,’’ the source said.
Central Alberta feedlot operators said they’re feeling a big economic pinch because they can’t sell cattle that are ready to be butchered. Those cattle need to be fed while revenue dwindles.
Armitage said cattle are selling for about 35 per cent less. But even at bargain prices, the cattle may not sell because packing plants have slashed production.
Since Alberta’s mad cow was discovered May 20, Armitage has sold 200 head of cattle. Typically, in that time period, about 1,500 are sold. His feedlot contains 6,500 cattle.
“We’ve probably got 1,500 that should go to market,” said Armitage.
“It’s a terrible, tough situation. Who wants the cattle? The banks don’t want them either.”
The economic impact could close some feedmills and spread pain throughout the industry.
Cattle ranchers will have difficulty selling their calves to struggling feedlots this fall, said Kent Olson of Willow Butte Cattle Co. between York and Pine Lake. Growers of grain for feeding cattle will also have a harder sell.
Even when the United States border reopens to beef, the cattle industry will face the task of restoring consumer confidence, said Olson.
“We still have to convince American consumers that our product is safe,” he said.
And it doesn’t stop there — Pacific Rim countries have also stopped importing Canadian beef.
“Our industry is not a big advocate of government support programs,” said Olson.
“But because of the situation, the government has to decide — do they want to support the industry and see it flourish or do they want to let it go by the wayside.”
York County Councillor Elmer Stoyberg, who runs a 180 cow-calf operation, said the situation is critical for feedlot operators and they, more than anyone, need compensation at this time.
“The beef that’s finished is getting bigger and bigger and weighing more pounds,” said Stoyberg.
“Large animals are going to market that should have been slaughtered weeks ago. A lot of people don’t like larger cuts of meat.”
Cattle rancher Greg Conn said the government must look at the value of the cattle industry in the economy.
“It’s a very complex thing, but something needs to be done to get the meat flowing again. Dumping it at rock bottom prices is not the way.”