Bison producers can’t keep up with ever-increasing demand

Demand for Canadian bison is beginning to outstrip supply

The story about bison prices this year is “a damn good one.”

“When we talk to marketers, the question we ask is, ‘How frequently are you shorting your customers?’ And they say, ‘Very frequently,’” said Terry Kremeniuk, executive director of the Canadian Bison Association.

“That just demonstrates how strong the demand is out there.”

The low loonie is having “a very big impact on what producers get for their finished animals,” because the U.S. is a major buyer of Canadian bison, Kremeniuk said at the Wildrose Bison Convention last month.

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“When you look at the U.S. marketplace over the last year and a half, we’ve seen prices move up to $4.35 per pound of hot hanging weight,” he said.

“The change in the Canadian marketplace has pretty much been because of the currency here.”

But there’s more at play as growth in demand is growing but production is down from a decade ago.

“In 1996, there was about 45,000 animals, and in 2006, the census indicated about 200,000 animals — but there was about 150,000 head across the country as of the first of January,” said Kremeniuk, adding there’s been a “slight increase” in the number of animals being bred.

“If you look at 2008 and 2009, we had over 90,000 animals slaughtered in North America, and we’ve sort of stabilized at the mid-70,000s. I expect that there will be about 77,000 animals slaughtered in North America in 2016.

“It’s a pretty small number of animals being slaughtered.”

The U.S. continues to grow as a buyer of Canadian bison.

“Currently, our biggest trading partner is the U.S., and over the last number of years, we’ve made a lot of progress in terms of easing the flow of animals across the border,” said Kremeniuk.

“In 2015, about 27,000 animals went to the U.S. That’s a pretty significant number.”

And new international trade deals will only continue to ramp up demand.

“There are EU market opportunities with the tariff removal as we move into the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). That’s going to be good for us,” he said.

“There’s strong market demand, and I think we have to continually work at market diversification.”

Theoretically, the cow-calf herd should expand to meet that growing demand, but until that happens, product availability in Canada will be reduced.

So now might be a good time for existing producers to expand or for newcomers to join the industry, said Kremeniuk.

“When you look at the size of the bison industry in Canada, 800 producers in the grand scheme of things isn’t large, and we certainly have a following in the marketplace that we have to continue to serve,” he said.

“The bottom line is that the long-term potential for the industry is very good.”

About the author

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Jennifer Blair

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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