Ontario beef producers look for federal assistance amid severe market turbulence

OTTAWA — Cascading events are pushing Ontario beef producers over the edge.

Requests for short-term assistance have gone to the federal government but there is no action so far, said Jack Chaffe, vice-president of Beef Farmers of Ontario.

The organization estimated market and trade disruptions have caused average weekly losses of $2 million over the last year.

Assistance includes business risk management funding to address the shortfall in current programs and a set-aside program to spread out cattle sales until longer term solutions can be found.

A major issue is the loss of packing capacity when the Toronto-based Ryding-Regency plant closed last December due to E. coli.

“In an already under serviced market we lost 10 percent of the province’s processing capacity overnight,” said Joe Hill, chair of the domestic agriculture committee for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

Between 8,000 and 12,000 head were backed up and producers ended up taking heavyweight discounts of up to $300 per head because there was nowhere for them to go, he said at the CCA annual meeting held in Ottawa March 11-13.

Canfax reports Ontario has traded at a significant discount to the western market throughout the last year.

Western cattle often go east for finishing and now some end up coming back for slaughter.

“It becomes an animal welfare problem. Putting 1,800 pound steers on trucks and hauling them west is not good for anybody,” said Chaffe.

He was at a group meeting with politicians on March 10 while in Ottawa for the CCA annual meeting.

The Ontario association is trying to get new owners to take over the Ryding-Regency plant. It was one of three federally inspected plants in the province.

They have also met with American packers like Tyson and JBS but overcapacity in the United States does not offer much relief.

“They will take them at a price but it is a huge loss to the Ontario feeding industry,” said Chaffe.

Some U.S. plants ship beef to South Korea and because Canada still has controlled rather than negligible risk status for BSE, those cattle are not welcome.

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