Manitoba beef producers hoping for change in assistance ahead of 2021 season

Cattle look out from a pen at the Thorlakson Feedyards near Airdrie, Alta., Thursday, May 28, 2020, amid a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Manitoba’s beef producers are hoping the province will throw its support behind a national proposal for more safeguards against tough years in their sector, following a few of those in the past decade.

The provincial association says changes to business risk management programs at the federal level, such as AgriStability, would give producers more flexibility if production is affected again in 2021.

“It’s an important industry,” Manitoba Beef Producers general manager Carson Callum tells 680 CJOB. “Like many sectors, we have our ups and downs and definitely some challenging years the last few years — whether that’s production-related, regulation-related, or with COVID-19.”

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The association is lobbying for changes that would do away with shortcomings towards the cattle industry amid the program, such as the removal of the reference margin limit, increases to the payment trigger and compensation rate, and adjustments to the payment cap.

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They’re changes Callum hopes most of the province’s 6,300 producers won’t have to make use of in 2021 — but he says the more safeguards, the better.

“(There’s been) great work done by a lot of these processing companies and key members of the industry to work through (COVID-19 issues),” he explains. “Things are looking positive now, we just have to make sure we’re keeping the pandemic in mind and work through it as best we can.”

What appeared to be an optimistic lookout on 2020 around 12 months ago by local producers was quickly derailed by the pandemic in March, when major processing plants were forced to shut down, causing a backlog of harvest-ready cattle.

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“A lot of that added cost trickled down to feedlots and into the marketplace, affecting some of the prices producers were getting for selling their cattle during that time,” Callum says.

Manitoba Beef Producers believes “overdue” changes to the program could help instil greater confidence in provincial cattle producers and encourage future investment and growth.

The province says it is ready to do what it can to support the resiliency and continued growth of the sector.

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“The AgriStability program changes that the federal government are proposing are still being considered by Manitoba,” reads a written statement from Minister Blaine Pedersen’s office.

Callum says production wasn’t the issue in 2020 — the province saw an improved season weather-wise — but adds despite some optimism, the unpredictability of the weather could always tank that outlook in short order.

“The weather was mostly good (last year). Feed production was pretty good compared to the past two years, which were more drought-related.”

Callum believes the pandemic shouldn’t interrupt production this season as much as it did in 2020, with plants putting robust safety measures in place.

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