Grass fed beef hot commodity

Manitoba producers say sales have increased by 35 to 100 percent in the past year

Manitoba consumers who want to eat grass-fed beef better have a relationship with a farmer because it’s becoming difficult to find or buy the niche product.

Richard Carr, who runs Rich Lane Farms near La Broquerie, Man., with his wife, Kristy-Layne, said he can’t raise enough grass-fed cattle to keep up with customer demand in Manitoba.

“Big time. There’s more demand than there is supply,” Carr said at the Manitoba Forage and Livestock Symposium, held in Portage la Prairie Dec. 9-10.

The Carrs direct market their grass-fed beef, and customers often talk to neighbours or friends about the meat. However, the Carrs don’t produce have enough to service additional customers.

“I tried to contact a few (grass-fed) producers … to see if they had surplus that I could buy off them to meet my customers’ needs, and they didn’t have enough,” Carr said.

Some consumers believe grass-fed beef is healthier than grain-fed and produced in more environmentally friendly systems.

Randy Tchacyk, who runs a cow-calf operation near Sundown, Man., has no trouble selling his grass-fed beef, even though prices are 40 percent higher than conventionally raised, direct marketed beef.

“The customers, they just ask me, ‘can we get beef from you next year?’ It’s a supply thing. They can’t find this grass-fed beef.”

Carla Radford, chair of the Manitoba Grass-Fed Beef Association, wrote in an annual report for the organization that demand is exploding.

“All members are reporting that sales have increased by 35 to 100 percent in the past year,” she said in spring.

“Members are marketing their beef directly to customers’ home freezers and through … farmers markets, retail butchers, food service companies and restaurants.”

The association lists 10 members on its website, but some grass-fed beef producers in the province are not part of the organization.

Tchacyk, who made a presentation at the forage and livestock symposium, said he sells grass-fed beef directly to clients and through a meat store in Steinbach, Man.

“I have one customer who takes the majority of all our beef,” he said.

“He’s got his own clientele and also markets it at the St. Norbert Farmers Market (in Winnipeg).”

Carr worries that more Canadians are buying chicken and pork as beef prices rise. Grass-fed beef is even pricier, and consumers may cut back, he added.

“That’s the big question … where is the ceiling for prices?” he said. “Is it going to hit a mark … where beef will only be bought by the wealthy?”

Carr’s grass-fed sales are based on a carcass price of $4 per pound. He direct-markets sides or quarters of beef, but many families prefer $100 or $200 boxes that comprise roasts, steaks and ground beef.

Tchacyk said there is plenty of room for new producers in Manitoba’s grass-fed market, but record prices are making conventional cattle production extremely profitable right now. Farmers have little incentive to switch to a longer and more complicated production method.

“I don’t think we’ll see too much expansion in the next little while into grass fed,” Carr said. “(Farmers) could keep back a steer to grass finish later on, but the money is good right now. There is no risk to taking the money. There is a risk to keeping (the animal).”

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