Letters to the editor – for Jun. 22, 2009

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Governments should fix cattle marketplace

It is time for the federal and provincial governments to step up to the plate and fix the deplorable crisis in the cattle industry.

Manipulation by packers and retailers leaves no money on the table for farmers and ranchers. Our returns need to come from the marketplace, but we have no market power. Packer manipulation through captive supply and in the case of Nillson Brothers, ownership of auction markets, feedlots and packing plants creates a no-win situation for farmers and ranchers.

The focus of governments and beef organizations has been on increasing exports. This has been good for packers and exporters. But we can export every last cow out of Western Canada and not one more penny will find its way back to the pockets of farmers and ranchers. Cows are heading for the auction markets by the thousands every week, and auction markets are cautioning farmers and ranchers to call first. In some cases, they are even sending cows home to avoid depressing the market further.

In central Alberta, we are in a severe drought situation, with little or no runoff, only three to five millimetres of rain for April, May and into June, no grass and no hay crop. Governments point us toward Agri-Stability and Agri-Recovery, but these programs won’t even pay the bills.

Federal and provincial governments need to follow the lead of the northern U.S. Senators and introduce a “Livestock Marketing Fairness Act.” If we have an integrated North American market then we need the same marketing advantages as our southern neighbours.

We realize that governments cannot fix the weather, but they can help to fix the marketplace.

Dale Fankhanel Cattle farmer, Ferintosh

No profit in cattle

In order to move forward, positively, in the cattle industry one must understand the cast of characters. This past February, at the annual Ag Choices meeting Agriculture Minister George Groeneveld emphatically stated that he was going to do what he thought was right for agriculture, and he did not care what anybody thought.

I took advantage of the opportunity to talk to the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA) group representative. What I fail to understand is what the ALMA board member who owns “Pizza Hut” is going to do for me. Does he even know I exist? Further, why would he care about small cow-calf producers? I was told to “Go home, you’re too small.”

While there is no profit left for me, I will not buy back a cow herd. In 1975, calf prices were 90 cents a pound. Thirtyplus years down the road, there has not been an increase to keep pace with inflation. I call that a monopoly.

Minister Groeneveld should remember, he is an elected official. As he doesn’t seem to care what I think, neither do I care for what he thinks. See you at the polls, minister. Laurie Richards

Red Deer

Opinions not so independent?

Opinion columns run in the April and May editions of Alberta Beef magazine by Roy Rutledge, a self-proclaimed “broken down old cowboy who ranches about 40 miles from Dog River, SK,” launched scurrilous attacks on the National Farmers Union (NFU) and its landmark analysis of the crisis in the beef sector.

Further investigation however shows that far from being an independent rancher, Roy Rutledge is a paid employee of Nilsson Brothers Inc., now the largest packer and auction market operator in Canada. This puts a totally different perspective on Mr Rutledge’s opinions. It explains why he was opposed to NFU work to prevent the Nilsson takeover of the Tyson Foods Lakeside plant which further reduces competition in the fed cattle market. It would seem that Mr Rutledge is a wolf in sheep’s clothing – his interests being diametrically opposed to those of every beef producers.

Mr Rutledge and his employers, Nilsson Brothers, interests are furthered by increased corporate concentration and captive supply practices and the resulting lower cattle prices that these bring about. No wonder he opposes the policies of the NFU, which aims to increase cattle prices paid to beef producers by breaking the control of captive supply and corporate concentration.

Alberta Beef magazine initially agreed to provide adequate space for an NFU perspective on the many untruths penned by Mr Rutledge about the organization and its Cattle Crisis analysis document. Unfortunately this offer was withdrawn and Alberta Beef refused to publish the NFU’s views. It would appear that in Canada it is not only producer’s cattle that are held captive by a few large corporate entities – their control also seems to extend to some elements of the media.

You can read the NFU response that Alberta Beef magazine lacked the courage to print by going to www.nfu.ca/rutledge-web.pdf or go to the NFU website at www.nfu.ca and follow the link to the article. Iain Aitken




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