Canadian beef producers say they are seriously concerned about the impact the blockade at a southern Alberta border crossing is having on their industry.
Thursday marked Day 6 of a protest at the Coutts border crossing. Demonstrators began parking their trucks and other vehicles near the crossing Saturday in solidarity with similar events in Ottawa and countrywide to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates and broader public health measures.
The prolonged disruption at the Canada-U.S. border crossing is causing supply chain challenges, according to beef producers. There’s a lack of access to feed coming from the U.S., as well as an impact on cross-border movement of cattle and meat products.
In a joint statement Thursday morning, Alberta Beef Producers (ABP), Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association (ACFA) and the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) called for a timely resolution to the blockade and the restoration of the essential supply chain.
The groups say blocking the transport of beef to cross-border consumers is slowing down processing in Canada, and creating a backlog at processing facilities, feedlots and farms and ranches. The obstruction is also blocking the growing critical supplies of feed that are needed across Western Canada.
“The unintended consequences of these closures and delays further affect already existing shortages on products like animal feed that have been caused by drought, trade disruptions and transport issues,” said Greg Schmidt with the ACFA.
“Transportation delays can severely impact the beef supply chain from cattle feed to grocery shelves.”
The producers say further impacts on cattle prices must be avoided.
“Maintaining a stable supply chain is critical to Canadian beef production. The evolving situation at the U.S.-Canada border and the transportation delays are resulting in major impacts for the entire beef supply chain,” CCA president Bob Lowe said.
Ryan Kasko is the general manager of Kasko Cattle Company near Coaldale, Alta. The family owned and operated business feeds about 40,000 head of cattle. He said he has some distiller grain sitting on the Montana side of the border that he’s been waiting on since Monday, to bring to Alberta to feed cattle.
“We haven’t been able to do that. We’re not the only ones, there are a lot of feedlots that are in the same predicament. It’s concerning that we just can’t get the feed to the animals,” Kasko said.
Because of drought conditions in much of Western Canada last year, there is already a feed shortage and Kasko said they’re getting a lot of grain from the United States.
“A lot of corn is coming into Alberta and a lot of distiller grains, and if we can’t get it — we’re struggling adding more forage into our rations or making other tradeoffs — so it’s negative for sure.”
While there are other border crossings, stakeholders say they don’t have the option of using those ports of entry, because in Alberta, Coutts is the only one that has the requisite commercial inspection facilities. Much of the grain needed to feed cattle is also processed at Coutts.
“There is an economic cost to all of this. It’s significant, it adds up and it’s an accumulation to a whole bunch of challenges we’ve had over the last few months, and really the last two years. But it’s getting more concentrated right now,” Kasko explained.
“The protesters, a lot of them are people in the agriculture world so personally, I’m kind of flabbergasted that they think this is a good solution to hurt their fellow agricultural people by blockading the border.
“It really does affect everyone in the cattle business.”
In 2020, food and agriculture were deemed an essential service to continue moving supply chains during the pandemic, and the groups say it is critical agriculture continues to be able to operate without disruption.
“Our focus remains on the people who are affected by immediate delays to the beef supply chain and ensuring the welfare of animals,” ABP chair Dr. Melanie Wowk said.
Lethbridge businesses losing $3M a day
Thursday afternoon, Economic Development Lethbridge CEO Trevor Lewington said the blockade of Alberta’s only 24/7 border crossing into the United States represented a “direct threat to the economic wellbeing of growers, producers, manufacturers and many other businesses that rely on the movement of raw materials in and finished goods out along the CANAMEX corridor.”
He said Lethbridge businesses are taking a $3-million hit every day due to the illegal blockade. Lewington said manufacturers would have to throttle back production, leading to loss of hours and shifts for workers.
“Many businesses are only just now recovering from the supply chain disruption that occurred with unprecedented weather events in B.C. just before Christmas and other global events that snarled the movement of supplies around the world,” Lewington said.
“A border blockade simply adds one more pain point to the mix.”
Lethbridge-West MLA Shannon Phillips said the blockade is putting jobs and livelihoods at risk.
“We cannot have our regional economy held hostage any longer.”
The Opposition has called on the provincial government to reimburse uninsurable losses as a result of the border barricade.
Lewington estimated the daily impact on the province’s economy to be multiples of what Lethbridge businesses are feeling.
According to most recent provincial data, Alberta exports to the United States shipped by road in 2020 were worth $8.53 billion, an average of $164 million a week. That was down from $9.76 billion the year before.
On Wednesday, there appeared to be some movement at the border as one lane each way was cleared on the highway at the main United States border crossing. However, another blockade has since been set up 18 kilometres to the north near Milk River.
Alberta RCMP said Wednesday night they had made some progress to reopen Highway 4 from Milk River to the border, but the situation remains fluid and travellers are asked to continue to avoid the area.
–with files from Adam Toy, Global News