PONOKA, Alta. — With bison selling for $6.50 a pound on the rail, it is a good time to be in the business.
The price of bison tenderloin has increased 19 percent in the last 10 years, while ground bison has increased 350 percent in the same time period.
More bison is appearing on restaurant menus and sells for a premium price in Canadian and American venues.
Bison is also trading at a premium to beef, and a free trade agreement with the European Union opens free access for 3,000 tonnes of Canadian product.
“I think it may change our Canadian industry because 25 percent of the bison are slaughtered in Canada. Most of the others are finished or slaughtered in the United States,” Alberta Bison chair Roger Van Haren said at the organization’s annual meeting in Ponoka March 17.
“Maybe it will move us to 50 percent at some point because of the demand in Europe.”
This deal offers long-term potential to the industry because the meat must be raised and processed in Canada. It also has separate export protocol.
“We do not have to compete with the beef industry to get product into Europe,” said Terry Kremeniuk, executive director of the Canadian Bison Association.
There is a need for more animals.
The Canadian bison population has been stable since 2011 at around 150,000.
The inventory was at more than 200,000 in 2007 because of BSE and the inability to ship live animals to the United States. Herd numbers declined when the border reopened and has remained flat.
The live bison trade is active with a large number exported to the U.S. for feeding and slaughter, thanks in part to the weaker Canadian dollar.
Canadian slaughter is also stable.
About 10,000 were slaughtered in federally inspected plants and 1,500 in provincial plants last year.
Prices are also exceeding expectations, increasing to an average of $6.60 a pound on the rail this year from $2.60 a lb. 10 years ago.
The five year average price on the rail was $5.04 compared to beef steers at $2.57 a lb. on the rail.
“At one time you would have seen bison selling at a discount to beef so there has been quite a change,” Kremeniuk said.