'A light at the end of the tunnel': Beef industry recovering from COVID-19 impact
Alberta's beef industry is slowly recovering from the impacts of COVID-19, including temporary shutdowns at major meat-packing plants this spring.
Amanda Stephenson, Calgary Herald (Canada)
Jul 23, 2020
Alberta’s beef industry is slowly recovering from the impacts of COVID-19, including temporary shutdowns at major meat-packing plants this spring.
In April, during the height of COVID-19 outbreaks among employees at meat processing facilities across North America (including in Alberta at the Cargill plant at High River, where three workers died of the illness, as well as the JBS plant at Brooks where one worker died), temporary plant shutdowns left Western Canada’s beef slaughter capacity at about 25 per cent of normal.
That led to a major backlog of ready-for-market cattle that suddenly had nowhere to go. According to industry estimates, at the height of the crisis, Canadian feedlot operators were losing $500,000 per day paying to feed and retain cattle that normally would be ready to ship to slaughter. Fed cattle prices also plummeted by $300-$400 per head, hitting their lowest point since October 2013.
Warning of a “real wreck” on the horizon, industry leaders successfully lobbied the federal and provincial governments to create a set-aside program, which compensates producers for voluntarily holding their cattle back from market in an effort to allow supply to match demand. That program has helped to avert a price collapse, said Janice Tranberg, president and CEO of the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association.
“We’re still below the five-year average, we’re not normal, but we’ve certainly seen prices come up to a better level than they were a few months ago,” Tranberg said, adding better prices for feedlot operators should also translate to better prices for ranchers looking to sell animals during this year’s fall calf run, when calves born in the spring are sold to feedlots.
“If the fed cattle industry is getting a fair price from the packers, then that just continues right down the line to when their feeder cattle are coming into the process,” Tranberg said...