Livestock needs forecast to deal with bad weather

Storm clouds have gathered over Canada’s livestock industry.

And although federal and provincial governments can’t change the weather, they can assist the nation’s livestock producers to weather the current storm.

So far, they haven’t. They must, and do it quickly.

Many livestock producers are making COVID-19 plans today that will determine whether they have a tomorrow. They need information from federal and provincial governments on near-future financial support so they can deal with fallout from the current pandemic and the chaos it has created.

The overall health of farming in Canada, even for grains and oilseeds that are largely focused on exports, relies on a healthy livestock sector.

Producers are now being forced to make difficult decisions about cutting production or even depopulating, the latter a massive potential waste of healthy animals, healthy food, labour, inputs and time. Livestock operations are right-sized, just-in-time businesses and cannot be scaled down to accommodate the supply-chain failures now being experienced in Canada.

Black swan events such as this pandemic are rare and unpredictable. Governments of every stripe often choose to look the other way when storms are somewhere over the horizon. To be fair, citizens don’t tend to elect folks that spend money on things they cannot see.

However, the mortgage-backed securities crisis of 2008 was predicted. African swine fever spread through Europe and Asia’s hog populations just as scientists modeled it would.

The viral pandemic COVID-19 didn’t signal its start date but global leaders knew it was coming someday. Now “someday” has arrived.

Behind every meal is a farmer and agriculture’s success in supplying food domestically and internationally is a striking contrast to the bleakness seen in other major sectors of the global economy during this pandemic.

That success on the meat protein side of food supply and economic stability is now in jeopardy.

Yes, the federal government has provided greater access to low-cost debt and deemed the agricultural sector to be essential, but enhanced support through risk management programs has not appeared despite repeated requests from both the cattle and hog sectors. It’s unacceptable.

In the West, Alberta and Saskatchewan governments are energy and mining royalty/industry tax dependent, while Manitoba relies on $2.5 billion in federal equalization transfers to help with its budgeting. These revenue sources don’t appear particularly strong for the near future so western provinces are likely loath to increase funds through the 60-40 federal-provincial BRM programs.

But surely support for those contributing to a stable food supply deserves some priority on the list of Canadian needs.

Livestock producers, including supply-managed sectors, are suffering primarily due to supply-chain failures in meat packing that have affected processing speeds, markets and every other link.

It’s largely a result of foreign trade policies, investor-fueled concentration, just-in-time delivery and the search – even the necessity – to achieve economies of scale.

This pandemic has shown the vulnerability on the production side that is now seeing ranchers and hog producers losing money on every animal they raise, feed and sell.

These two sectors have been specific in their assessment of the problem and their requests to government.

It’s now incumbent on government to move quickly and prove that it sees food security as a priority for this nation.

It must provide an umbrella to help livestock producers survive this storm.

Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen and Mike Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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