“When the majority of cattle have to go south by truck, that costs money”
Raising cattle is tough everywhere these days, and producers in the Peace region have some unique challenges, says the area’s newly elected director of Alberta Beef Producers (ABP). Roland Cailliau, a cow-calf operator who ranches 100 kilometres east of Grande Prairie, succeeds Janys Boyte of Elmworth, near Beaverlodge.
Cailliau runs about 175 cows on 2,000 acres near Valleyview. The family left southern Alberta to move up to the Peace in 1980 to “try their luck” at cattle. “The cattle business has been pretty good to us,” he said. “Times are tough but we see that cycle in all segments at one time or other,” he says.
In the mid-1990s, Cailliau took on a second job hauling livestock around northern Alberta. He got to know a lot of producers along the way. As the new Peace ABP director, Cailliau says he will leverage that experience to best represent the area to the producer organization.
“Representing our producers at the provincial level is very important,” he says. “It’s a two-way street. Informing the ABP what the rank and file wants is just as important as letting the rank and file know what the organization is doing.”
Cailliau sees business as usual heading into 2010. “Increasing the profitability and sustainability of cattle producers is the mandate of the ABP,” he said. Working to ensure the government “doesn’t steamroll additional legislation” is one cause dear to his heart.
He cites mandatory tagging and age verification. “We’ve managed to move the mandatory age for tagging from birth back to 10 months, if the animal doesn’t leave the farm. “That’s a big burden off the rancher,” he says.
Cailliau says producers are dealing with low prices and some are being “smothered” by governmental regulations. SRM removal legislation, for example, is costing producers in the range of $100 a head, says Cailliau.
“Add that to $3 to $5 here and there for tagging and verifying animals and it all adds up.”
LITTLE SLAUGHTER CAPACITY
Peace-region operators are facing the same challenges as their counterparts across Western Canada, but “We do have a few issues key to this area,” says Cailliau. “We don’t have a major slaughterhouse or major finishing feedlots in the area. “We do have some smaller lots that are doing wonderful jobs but the Peace just doesn’t have a great capacity for finishing animals.”
Distance to slaughter, markets and “feedlot alley” brings to bear additional pressure on northwest Alberta producers, he said.
With his experience as a livestock hauler, Cailliau is fully aware of what transportation costs can do to the bottom line. “When the majority of cattle have to go south by truck, that costs money,” he said. “At the end of the day the producer takes the hit on it.”
Cailliau concedes it’s not likely to change anytime soon. “Having a large processing facility in the Peace is a long way off,” he said. “The major slaughterhouses in Alberta are said to be operating at 70 per cent capacity right now.” Sometimes, getting product to market from the Peace means discounting prices. “We might be getting around $2 a hundredweight compared to $3 in southern Alberta,” Cailliau said.
Still, Cailliau’s optimistic a turnaround is in sight. “It’s just a matter of when and how many of us can keep going,” he said. “All we’re hanging onto right now is the cow’s tail and we’re hoping it’ll pull us through.” If the market doesn’t pick up by this fall, there’ll be more producers getting out of the business, he says.
In reflecting on the future Cailliau said, “There’s still good demand in the world for beef, but we’re at the mercy of different things, not the least of which is the recession.”
Cailliau said the Canadian – and particularly Alberta – consumer has supported Canadian beef very well. “We can’t ask them to do much more, “ he said. Because of the size of the segment of our industry, Cailliau said a focus on the development of additional markets for Canadian beef needs to be a priority.