Cattle industry slowly recuperating from beginning of pandemic

From working through the backlog of fat cattle, to the set aside program, and on to market demand, Bob Lowe, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), is cautiously optimistic about the cattle value chain recovery from the lows of April and May.

Looking back to spring and early summer, there was a backlog of cattle, the disruption of food service, and grocery stores took the brunt of demand. “The year started out so positive and then as COVID hit, I don’t think there’s anybody living that has seen anything like it,” says Lowe. “All-in-all when you look at it, compared to the world, we’ve come through this fairly well, both as a country and as an industry,” he adds.

The cattle set aside program has been operating for several weeks in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and not a lot of cattle have been put onto the program. From CCA’s perspective, the set-aside program is there if producers need it, but Lowe sees that packers have been selective about picking cattle, taking the largest or most finished, cattle first. (Story continues below player.)

Some have speculated that producers didn’t wait for a government program to help them out — they adjusted their feeding program accordingly to get cattle out. “When you think about it, if the backlog was 100,000 head, and we kill 2.5 million a year, that’s not a big amount of cattle,” says Lowe. Spaced out over a year, it’s not a fundamentally huge increase, and it’s reflected in the low number of set-aside placements in March.

Marketing has been very orderly, and slaughter numbers per week are as high or higher than the same weeks last year. Boxed beef prices have been moving up steadily. Features of beef in grocery stores are also up, reassuring many that the demand is still there.

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