The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) is recommending the immediate reinstatement of a set-aside program that was implemented during the BSE era to address the challenges with beef processing capacity being created by COVID-19.
The CCA says it’s in discussions with the federal government about implementing the program to encourage producers to hold cattle longer when processing capacity isn’t available. The program was originally developed and implemented when export markets, including the U.S., closed to Canadian cattle and beef after the discovery of a positive case of BSE in 2003.
“We learned many lessons during the hard years of BSE, and it is time to implement the policies that previously helped us weather the storm,” says Bob Lowe, President of the CCA, in a statement issued late Monday (April 13.)
Cargill’s High River, Alta., beef plant is one of the latest on a growing list of North American meat processing plants to slow down or shut down completely due to COVID-19 risks among employees. Cargill has slowed the plant down to one shift as of this week, limiting the number of cattle processed to roughly 1,500 per day. The plant regularly slaughters 4,000 to 4,500 per day with two shifts, and represents 36 percent of Canada’s total beef processing capacity.
Listen to Shaun Haney discuss the set aside program with Dennis Laycraft of Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (more story below)
Other plants have also reduced their capacity to implement precautionary measures, such as spacing and shields between workers.
The set-aside program developed post-BSE was designed to delay the marketing of cattle by having producers move them onto maintenance rations when processing capacity wasn’t available.
The CCA is recommending feedlots be given the option to bid to extend the feeding period of cattle up to a maximum of $2/head per day for up to 90 days. Bidding would occur on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, and would be overseen by a governing committee made up of independent business and financial experts. Unlike the program in 2004, the CCA would also like to see it made permanent, serving as a mechanism to address seasonal surpluses in Ontario, as well as other major disruptions to the beef supply chain.
The CCA submitted a list of recommendations to the federal government in March, which included changes to business risk management (BRM) programs, as well as the implementation of this set-aside framework in a critical situation, which the association says the beef industry is now in.
“We also must look at and support all actions that can assist in our current situation. This could include increases in processing capacity at provincial packing plants and holding back cows so that we can focus slaughter on fed cattle – everything is on the table,” states Lowe.