1.1 C
Monday, January 27, 2020
Their View / Opinion

The cattle are lowing; the money’s not flowing

Right here at home, where some of the finest beef animals are raised, we’re running contrary to a global trend that shows the cattle industry is riding a wave.

In most other countries, things are looking up for beef, despite growing interest in alternative protein sources from plants and insects. Overall meat consumption has doubled in 50 years and continues to grow, with poultry leading the way. Likewise, beef ‘s market share is climbing almost everywhere.

But if you are good at production, you must also be good at other aspects, like processing. And that’s where we’re falling way, way down.               

The Beef Farmers of Ontario say collective losses in Ontario and Quebec alone this year will top $150 million. Cattle feeders in the two provinces are losing more than $2.5 million a week.

The organization’s president, Joe Hill of Fergus, says the problems are mainly connected to prolonged, depressed markets, trade disruptions, market access challenges and – this is the big one – insufficient processing capacity.

The problem is compounded by the fact that one of the largest beef and veal processing plants serving eastern Ontario had production suspended by federal authorities because of regulatory violations, sending producers scrambling.

Independent Senator Rob Black, also of Fergus, weighed in on the problem last week when he raised the cattle issue in the Senate, framed around the processing plant’s suspension.

“We have a surplus of cattle and not enough processing capacity,” he informed his colleagues, adding that he wanted to know what the government planned to do about it, short term and long term.

By Saturday night, the video of his question – along with government representative Senator Peter Harder’s assurance that he’d find out and report back – had close to 4,500 views.  People care.

What’s frustrating beef producers is that decision makers at the federal level in particular may be listening and even acknowledging that there’s a problem, but nothing is happening. And no one in a position of authority can claim ignorance about the problem. Beef farmers raised it repeatedly with federal candidates on the campaign trail this fall. Unfortunately, no one has done anything about it.

So with the election over, ministers appointed (and in the case of the federal agriculture and food minister, reappointed), beef farmers here and in Quebec have issued a new appeal for help.

Like Black, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture has taken up the cause. Federation director Jackie-Kelly Pemberton says the entire value chain is feeling the financial effects of these industry disruptions, not to mention the stress on farmers, businesses and their families.

“[The federation] recognizes beef farmers have no immediate recourse to address these challenges,” she says. “Many of these issues and uncertainties are out of the control of farmers. That’s why [the federation] has joined the call asking for immediate government action to aid in the resolution of the mounting threats facing Ontario farmers.”

It’s an issue for the province to address, as well as the feds. As Pemberton points out, with processors exiting the sector in recent years there are too few players to place bids on cattle to ensure a competitive, healthy marketplace.

As a result, marketing options are reduced for Ontario farmers, squeezing financial margins even tighter.

This scenario runs contrary to the provincial government’s “open for business” position. Shuttered processors do not contribute to a positive business environment.

So as we sit down for our holiday feasts, let’s spare a thought for those who produce the food on our table, like our beef farmers, and try to develop an appreciation for the struggles they face. We know they’re under a lot of stress; understanding them and their challenges is a big part of supporting them and the services they provide.

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to The Observer's online community. Pseudonyms are not permitted. By submitting a comment, you accept that The Observer has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner The Observer chooses. Please note that The Observer does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our submission guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

We're looking for opinions that count.

Yours. Join in the conversation, provide another viewpoint, change minds with your perspective.


Ongoing privacy woes continue to threaten democracy

Reports about growing threats to our privacy, democracy and very freedom are common. So too is the lack of response from government, which does...

Spending on transit, bike lanes unlikely to pay any dividends

There’s an “if you build it, they will come” mentality to both transit and so-called active transportation (walking, biking) schemes in Waterloo Region. That’s...

Putin the immortal? Probably not

Five years ago somebody posted photographs on the internet showing a man who looked a lot like Vladimir Putin in photographs from 1920...

Downed planes are collateral damage

One of the main causes of death for airline passengers in recent decades is being shot down by somebody’s military. Not the very...

Broadband and bridges, all in the same breath

It’s never been hard to convince rural Ontarians of the value of investing in capital infrastructure. They understand the need for the likes of...

So what’s wrong with a $4 turkey?

Afriend of mine – let’s call her Tara, because that’s her name – visited relatives in Michigan over the Christmas holidays, and noticed the...

Taking a closer look at pike flies then and now

Over the past week or so, I’ve been dreaming of spring and open water, and tying pike flies. If there...

Think of posterity and posteriors when tying flies

This week, I have been making an effort to tie at least one pike fly every day so that when the spring season...

Espionage can be really crappy work

Q.  Based on the most comprehensive inventory of North American birds ever done, their population is A. increasing slightly  B. remaining steady  C....

That you have a phone number can be traced to the measles

Q.  How did an epidemic of measles lead to the introduction of phone numbers? A.  At one time, all phone calls...
- Advertisement -