‘It’s looking terrible’: Alberta ranchers struggling in provincial drought

Click to play video: 'Alberta ranchers struggling to feed cattle amidst extreme drought'
Alberta ranchers struggling to feed cattle amidst extreme drought
WATCH: Hot, dry conditions across Western Canada and the northern U.S. has put cattle feed in high demand. Beef producers are asking the provincial and federal governments for help. Jessie Weisner reports. – Aug 3, 2021

Editors note: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Colleen Biggs’ last name.

Colleen Biggs owns TK Ranch, which has been operating since 1956.

Her family manages 9,000 acres of land and roughly 1,100 cattle.

This season, they’re planning to rally the community to make sure the animals are fed.

“Honestly, we’re going to have to go up to our customers. I’m going to try and come up with a campaign here in the next couple of weeks where our customers can opt to help us feed a cow for a day or a week or a month,” said Biggs.

Hot weather and little moisture in southern Alberta, Western Canada, and the northern U.S. have caused a shortage of feed for cattle.

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Competition for what little feed is available is high, driving up prices.

“It’s not that we haven’t faced drought in the past. The difference this year is that the drought is so widespread,” Biggs said.

“It goes from western Ontario, all the way across the Prairies to central British Columbia and all the way south into North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana. The amount of feed that’s available is unbelievably low because everybody’s facing the same problem.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta announces drought relief funding for farmers and ranchers'
Alberta announces drought relief funding for farmers and ranchers

Biggs said her cattle typically need about 3,200 large round hay bales to get them through the winter. Last year, they were able to harvest about 2,500 bales from the land. This year, they’re going to harvest 140.

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“We have to buy over 3,000 bales this year, and I don’t know how we’re going to do it,” she said.

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“All of our green feed crops completely failed this year. They burnt up in that heat wave. Our hay is also substantially less, so it’s looking terrible.”

Some producers are choosing to sell a portion of their cattle because they’re too expensive to feed.

Biggs sold some of her cattle at the end of July but said the price per animal was far less than the $1,300 price tag she would have received in the summer of 2020.

“We made just over $900 per cow, which is really a terrible price for those cattle. Part of the problem was that several thousand cows were brought up from Montana and sold at that sale. When you have that kind of a demand, then the price just falls through the floor,” she said.

The Alberta Beef Producers have been in talks with the provincial and federal governments to provide support for ranchers affected by the drought.

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Premier Jason Kenney, Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen, Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon and Associate Minister of Rural Economic Development Nate Horner toured land affected by the drought conditions on July 31.

They were joined by officials with the ABP.

“They were very positive in the sense that they wanted to work with the leadership of Alberta Beef Producers to find solutions, and we are hopeful that soon we are going to hear some of the solutions,” said Brad Dubeau, general manager of the ABP.

The province of Alberta sent out a press release Tuesday, outlining current supports in place like programs for water security, tax deferrals and insurance discounts.

Western provinces are also requesting that the federal government steps up.

“A number of provinces have joined Alberta in requesting that the federal government undertake a formal assessment for an AgriRecovery response. AgriRecovery is designed to cover uninsurable costs, such as those incurred due to extreme drought conditions,” the provincial release said.

Biggs said the programs currently in place just aren’t enough but a payout to producers could help.

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“As far as help, I’m not sure what programs the government can offer as far as beyond the programs that are currently in place,” said Bigg.

“I mean if they could put up money for livestock producers to be able to even compete in the feed situation, that’s is a great option.”

The province said it is continuing to monitor the situation.

“The province is monitoring the situation and working with AFSC, other levels of government and our commodity groups to make sure farmers, ranchers and producers have the supports they need during this difficult time,” the release said.

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