WINNIPEG, Manitoba, Jan 25 (Reuters) – Canadian farmers say they are just days away from running out of feed for cattle, due to severe drought last summer damaging crops needed to fatten them over winter and transportation bottlenecks.
The drought devastated Prairie pastures and has now forced feedlots in Alberta, the main cattle-producing province, to buy more U.S. corn. Moving it north of the border is difficult and costly, however.
Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd (CP.TO), the main corn shipper to Western Canada, has struggled to keep up with demand during frigid weather. COVID-19 vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers threaten to further disrupt the supply chain.
The feed shortage could depress profits for feedlots, the farms that raise cattle to slaughter weight, but it may not raise retail beef prices as feedlots have incentive to sell their cattle to packers as quickly as possible, increasing meat supply, said Brian Perillat, senior analyst at CanFax.
Jacob Bueckert, owner of a 20,000-head feedlot near Warner, Alberta, estimates that he has five days’ supply of feed on hand, when he normally has 14-30 days’ worth.
“We don’t have any buffer. It’s scary,” he said, adding that he is frustrated by delayed rail shipments.
“Excuses aren’t going to feed the cattle.”
Many feedlot owners are getting by with contributions from neighbors who have enough feed, Bueckert said. But it is not easy to find surplus grain – feedlots are fuller than usual after the drought led ranchers to sell more cattle to feedlots last fall, he said.
“We are still waiting for December’s unit train and it’s the end of January now.”
According to the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association, 8,000 rail cars of corn had been shipped from the U.S. in 2021 as of mid-December. In 2020, just 600 rail cars of corn had been shipped from the U.S. by the same point.
Janice Tranberg, president of the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association, called the amounts of corn imports into Canada “unprecedented.”
“The feeders are looking to bring dried distillers grains and corn from the U.S. up as much as they can,” she said.
One of the biggest challenges is moving so much corn, she added.
“This isn’t a typical route to the degree we’re bringing it up. Normally, we’re worried about how are we getting our grain west,” said Tranberg.
“There’s been delays in shipments on the rail side, we’re short of labor, we’re short of truck drivers, it’s just kind of been the perfect storm,” said Janice Tranberg, president and CEO of the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association.
Some Alberta cattle producers say a feed shortage has reached a crisis situation on the Prairies.
The Alberta Cattle Feeders Association says several large feedlots, housing anywhere from 20-thousand to 40-thousand head of cattle, have indicated they could run out of food within days.
The industry says the effects of last season’s drought have been worsened by delays in rail shipments of corn due to labour shortages, cold weather and other supply chain challenges.
The Alberta Cattle Feeders Association estimates over 75 per cent of its members have had corn shipments delayed, and almost 100% have had shipments of distillers’ dried grains delayed and are either out or will soon be out.
“Several larger feedlots have indicated that they will run out of all feed in a few days,” says a recent briefing note from the ACFA. “These feedlots house anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 head so this is now a serious animal welfare issue.”
“It’s a mess,” notes Kevin Serfas, of Serfas Farms, based at Turin, Alta. “If you only bought exactly what you needed on a week-to-week basis, you are in panic mode right now. I started November 1 and probably have half my orders. I’m not sure what needs to change. Everyone just blames the prior link in the chain.”
“In 30 years of business, I’ve never experienced where we don’t know what we’re going to feed the cattle Monday morning.” says ACFa member Leighton Kolk.
An unprecedented situation is unfolding right now in Canadian cattle country, where industry groups say a widespread feed shortage has escalated into a crisis situation.
ACFA is working diligently with elected officials and rail/transport industry to resolve the issue and move as much feed as possible soon.
“With a large cross-border trade of incoming feeder cattle, and export of fed cattle, this will have an significant impact on our industry as a large number of drivers have not been vaccinated,” says Janice Tranberg, executive director of the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association.
The cattle industry is not the only sector that is concerned as can be read here in the complete article on RealAgriculture.com
or feedlot operator Ryan Kasko, the big factor is plain to see — a shortage of processing capacity in Canada
“One of the biggest challenges is that there are too many cattle in North America for the capacity that the packers have to process them,” said Kasko, CEO of Kasko Cattle Company in Coaldale.
“Beef demand is really, really strong, so prices (for beef) went up and they remain very strong,” said Kasko. “That’s really largely why prices are high for beef.
Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association
6-11010 46 ST SE, Calgary, AB, T2C 1G4
- Alberta Cattle Feeders Call on Government for Immediate Action to Open Borders February 14, 2022
- Statement on Canada-U.S. Border Disruption February 3, 2022
- Feedlots still struggling for feed despite increase in corn shipments January 27, 2022