"Minister, enough is enough" — Beef sector launches video ask for direct support during pandemic

While there is plenty of attention on the growing beef processing crisis in Western Canada, beef producers in Eastern Canada are also struggling with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Beef Farmers of Ontario (BFO) has published a video request of the federal government, which includes several voices from the beef industry’s eastern producers (see video below).

In a letter to Marie-Claude Bibeau, federal Minister of Agriculture, dated April 8th, the beef industry says:

“We must draw your attention to the continued and intensified threat to the continuation of the food supply chain and viability of the beef sector in Eastern Canada. The Eastern Canadian beef sector has been in the midst of a crisis for close to two years. Week after week, deep losses have challenged farms to stay in business, with the security of local beef supply now at a critical tipping point.

The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the losses for our farmers, and increased the supply bottleneck, resulting in delays getting cattle processed and beef products into the homes of Canadians. The loss of a competitive marketplace for beef farmers in Eastern Canada has led to financial losses not experienced since the BSE crisis.”

Beef farmers are asking for an immediate infusion of financial support, not access to loans, as was the government’s first announcement for agriculture in this pandemic.

For Ontario, BFO is concerned that a plant closure at the Cargill plant at Guelph could have devastating impacts on Eastern Canada, similar to what is happening in Alberta. Three out of every four cattle processed in the east go through that plant, BFO says. What’s more, pullbacks in dairy demand has increased cull cow numbers, further straining existing capacity.

The financial strain on beef producers is building. According to BFO, feedlot losses averaged between $175-$300 per head in 2019. Ontario market price data shows average losses for feedlot operators since the beginning of March have averaged $375 per animal. “Similar losses in the cattle feeding sector have plagued Quebec and the Maritimes, and have trickled down to cow-calf producers in what is simply a continuation and intensification of the pre-COVID-19 trend,” BFO wrote in the April 8th letter. Nothing has been done or announced since that time.

Beef farmers across Eastern Canada are now saying “Enough is enough,” and are asking for support through direct payments or BRM program improvements or a combination of both, and are calling for the immediate establishment of a feeder/fed-cattle and cull-cattle set-aside program, similar to the programs offered during BSE.

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