The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association is warning about risks to the future of ranching as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The group is calling for a federal program that would allow producers to be able to keep their animals longer. The plan would involve feeding cattle a maintenance diet instead of the more nutrient-dense growth diet they are usually fed before slaughter.
“It is certainly reminiscent of the really hard times that we had in the early 2000s. So we are very concerned about the long-term viability of farming and ranching in Canada and that’s why we made some very strategic recommendations to the federal government about why we need investment today,” said Fawn Jackson, the association’s director of government and international affairs, on Monday.
Several meat processors in Canada and the United States have either suspended or slowed operations in recent weeks because of outbreaks among staff or due to physical distancing measures meant to stop COVID-19 from spreading.
The Cargill meat-packing plant near High River announced on Monday it is temporarily pausing operations.
Currently, experts say it is ranchers who are feeling the most pain, with prices for cattle tumbling because there are limited buyers.
“In terms of consumers, it’s not something to be concerned about yet but it can change in a hurry,” said Iivestock analyst Kevin Grier.
He said supply is still in good shape now but warned not to expect great deals on beef from retailers in the near future.
“The first thing we’re going to notice is that our flyers are not nearly as attractive as they once were for two reasons: they’re worried about being able to buy at an attractive price. Number two, with nobody going to restaurants, they don’t really need to compete a whole lot on those flyers anymore,” Grier said.
Calgary stores are still stocked with plenty of regularly priced beef — but grocers warn that could change.
“Until now, we’ve been able to keep our meat prices very reasonable, but with the way things are going, I don’t see it staying reasonable for very long,” said Sue Ghebari, manager of MRT Family Foods in Calgary.