Alta. feedlots prepared to cope with feed issues

However, it’s a different story for cow-calf producers, who may need to reduce their herds due to thin feed supplies

Many regions of the Prairies expect some feed shortages this year, but Alberta feedlots have plans to deal with 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?”

However, it’s a different story for cow-calf producers, and 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 feedgrain 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. In Manitoba, the government has opened up 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 has heard reports that the feed shortage has even reached the dairy industry, which 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 added, 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 rain 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 said the issue of longer-term feed supplies never even came up during meetings he has had with several feedlots, which illustrates how little of a concern it is for that side of the industry.

“These guys, they manage their way through these things,” he said.

“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.”

Calvin Vaags, who operates Clover Spring Farms Inc., a feedlot with 1,500 to 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 feedgrain prices might be a bit higher than normal, but the more pressing problem is forage supply.

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