“Consumers and politicians always seem to feel there is going to be a dumb farmer to raise Canadian meat.”
Poor winter feed availability continues to force Peace region cattle producers out of business and hog producers aren’t faring any better.
Areas of the Peace are extremely feed-deficient, says Canadian Cattlemen’s Association vice-president Travis Toews. “This has encouraged liquidation by many producers,” said Toews, a Beaverlodge-area cow-calf producer. “Even if producers can buy feed at a reasonable price, many are just choosing not to,” he says. “For other producers who are asked to pay exorbitant amounts, the decision to liquidate becomes easier.”
Willowview Auctions, about a half-hour southwest of Grande Prairie in Beaverlodge, runs weekly cattle sales. “Numbers going through the rings have increased by about 20 per cent because of the feed situation,” says Willowview’s Ged Willis. “But the price is holding pretty steady.”
Prices are very comparable to last year, Willis says. “We might be a cent or two higher.” Still, market prices are not even close to what a producer needs to stay in business, he says. “At the price of cattle, producers short of feed just can’t afford to buy hay at $50 a bale.”
Complete herd dispersal numbers are sitting at about the same as they were last year. Willis estimates about 10-15 per cent of Peace herds are liquidated every year. He expects to see a price increase after Christmas, once all culled cows move through.
For now, Everyone who has feed are hanging on, and the guys that don’t are selling out,” Willis says.
High input costs, currency exchange rates and a global recession bring mounting pressure on northwestern Alberta producers, said Travis Toews. “Peace producers have a few things working against them, our distance to market and processing plants mean we have higher freight costs,” said Toews. “Our longer winters add to production costs as well.”
Toews sees a light at the end of the tunnel, but he’s realistic. “We’re an industry that has had too many tough years in a row and now without any certainty when the demand side of the equation will strengthen, many producers are just packing it in,” he says.
HOGS IN TROUBLE
Demoralizing financial losses have plagued Alberta pork producers, part of what many are calling a nationwide collapse of the industry. In Alberta, the industry has already been reduced to fewer than 450 producers from 1,500 producers only five years ago. That represents a reduction of more than one million market
hogs produced in the province.
Rocky Morrill and his brother operate Peace Pork, a long-standing hog production company near Falher, about an hour northeast of Grande Prairie. Morrill confirms there are very few producers left in the Peace country “for a lot of different reasons.” He says many producers are doing a lot of soul-searching given current market stresses.
“Business is retracting even in the Hutterite colonies, which probably make up about a third of Peace-region hog producers,” Morrill says. “We’ve only got about seven or eight colonies left in the business, they see it as a non-viable business, at least for the moment.”
Morrill estimates total producer numbers in the Peace have dropped by about 30 per cent in the last two to five years. “There’s an oversupply of pork on the world market,” he says. “Alberta producers have to compete both on the revenue side and cost of production side. Producers here don’t get paid as much as some other North American producers, and it probably costs more than other producers to raise hogs here.”
Morrill believes there are other long-term problems. “Historically, livestock producers have had a family lineage to them,” he said. “There are now very few family members stepping up to take over the operation when the parents retire. A pig farmer is a dying breed,” he said, adding that he senses the same is true for cattle producers. “Consumers and politicians always seem to feel there is going to be a dumb farmer to raise Canadian meat,” said Morrill. “But the truth is, we’re slowly going the way of the Dodo bird.”