Alberta feedlots prepared for feed issues; producers struggle

Many regions of the Canadian Prairies expect some feed shortages this year, but Alberta feedlots have plans ready to deal those issues.

Bryan Walton, chief executive officer of the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association, said overall conditions appear decent, although producers in drier areas have silaged barley rather than wait for harvest because of lighter crops. Northern crops appear to be faring better and he doesn’t expect Alberta feedlots will see much wheat go for feed because of the good quality crops being grown.

Overall, he said, cattle feeders may be looking for other sources.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw (U.S.) corn coming in this year,” he said.

“They (feedlot operators) will do whatever they can. You have to feed the cattle, right?”

But for beef producers, it’s a different story, where thin feed supplies are likely to spark herd reductions.

Todd Lewis, president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, said producers have some tough decisions to make this winter as they evaluate the feed and forage supplies. He said producers will have a better handle on feed grain supplies as harvest progresses but most cereal crops look to be of reasonable quality and he expects little will be downgraded to feed.

APAS has asked the federal government for an early decision on allowing producers to defer claims on income generated from livestock sales, to avoid paying taxes on those sales this year.

Lewis said the fall calf run is probably going to start a couple weeks early in Saskatchewan; and in Manitoba, the government has opened up some Crown land for grazing to help ease feed shortages.

Brian Lemon, general manager of Manitoba Cattle Producers, said many auction markets there have returned from summer early to open their doors in anticipation of an early fall calf run.

He said unless a dramatic event like a widespread frost strikes during harvest, most of the crop is likely of good quality with decent yields. He expects little will become available for feed.

“Feed prices continue to be probably unsustainable for the beef industry,” he said.

He added that he has heard reports that the feed shortage has even reached the dairy industry, and that could potentially add another player competing to buy feed in an already tight market.

That said, beef producers always seem to find feed from somewhere, he said, although it’s starting to look like many will be looking for assistance.

As well, the long-term lack of moisture is becoming a major problem and producers desperately need fall rains and heavy winter snow to replenish surface and subsoil moisture.

“It’s getting to be that we’re going to be looking for assistance for feed, but also for water,” he said.

Walton, at Alberta Cattle Feeders, said during meetings he has had with several feedlots, the issue of longer-term feed supplies never even came up. That illustrates how little of a concern it is for that side of the industry, he said.

“These guys, they manage their way through these things. It’s just the way they operate.”

He said the large irrigation infrastructure in southern Alberta saved many crops there, but he expects some barley will come in lighter than usual.

He agreed that drought in Europe, Australia and Russia, could drive prices higher this winter as buyers look for alternative supplies, but he said that export market will probably focus more on high quality cereals.

“The feedlots here are full and the fall run is about to start,” he said adding there is no sign that feeders are looking to shed animals.

“We’re seeing some expansion going on. These guys are bullish on the future.”

He said the best news the industry could receive this week would be of a successful deal on the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Canada and the U.S. are currently in talks, following an informal deal reached between the U.S. and Mexico on Aug. 27. A deadline for Canada-U.S. agreement on a preliminary deal is Aug. 31.

Calvin Vaags, who operates Clover Spring Farms Inc., a feedlot with 1,500-2,000 animals near Dugald, Man., said he plans to feed his animals mostly from crops he grew himself, although he will probably have to buy more at some point.

He said feed grain prices might be a bit higher than normal, but the more pressing problem is forage supply.

Feed barley bids in Manitoba, delivered to the elevator on Aug. 28 (Canadian dollars per bushel) were 4.20-4.50; in Saskatchewan bids were 3.83 to 4.40 and in Alberta bids were 5.00.

Feed wheat bids delivered to elevator were 4.65-5.85 in Saskatchewan; 5.64 in Manitoba; and 6.31-6.91 in Alberta.

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