Sunday, 7 November 2010

Is the Beef industry in Ontario only 15 years from extinction?

Is the Beef industry in Ontario only 15 years from extinction?

November 2010 Rural voice magazine article
by John Beardsley

I continue to hear rumblings about the continuing lack of profitability in Ontario beef industry especially the feedlot sector. There is also a lack of fairness in how the industry is treated across the country. I thought the federal government would have been more farmer friendly, considering 70 percent of farmers voted for Harper (or against Martin????) last time out. I guess Harper figures he can take them for granted because they are his guys and gals. This is a dangerous political mistake as Ontario farmers are traditionally evenly split and I would think it could swing a lot of rural Ontario ridings like Larry Miller, Ben Lobb, Garry Schellenburger just to name a few in my neighbourhood.

Harper said he would scrap the CAIS (Canadian agricultural income stabilization) program when he was plugging for votes in southwestern Ontario last time out, but he just changed the name and added Agri-invest. Why he hasn't signed on to the risk management program I cannot fathom. When the over 55 year olds bail out of the industry there isn't a generation of new beef farmers waiting to take over. It is unfortunate because beef farming is actually very environmentally friendly, keeping fragile lands in grass and out of row crops. The beef and dairy industries continue to be the largest user of ddg's, the byproduct of ethanol plants which make ethanol profitable and greener. The carbon hoofprint of importing Alberta and U.S. (and the whole world's) beef is huge.

The standards used to raise beef in other parts of the world are not as high as they are in Ontario. Recent news stories have shown how little the Canadian food inspection agency of the federal government actually inspect imported food. Shouldn't all levels of government do much more in promoting Ontario beef as a safe secure protein source?

Hyland Seeds has been flying a large yellow balloon with the “Farmers Feed Cities” slogan emblazoned on it. Hyland has been actively lobbying both governments on the issue of properly supporting agriculture. It would be nice if Pioneer, Dekalb, Mycogen, Syngenta and Maisex would add their voices to this promotion. The seed corn companies should know how much corn seed the Ontario beef industry uses. At least this year's high corn yields will give the industry a bit of a boost in both farm feed costs and the cost of corn bought in.

The modern young farmers are much more business savvy than the generation they are replacing and, just like the traditional dairy industry, are rethinking the use of their equity. Why keep hitting your head against the wall of indifference and neglect thrown up by the provincial Liberals. Many have said "if you don't want us, then be honest and tell us; better still, buy us out like the hog industry and we can carry on with restructuring our businesses accordingly". Another huge inequity is that Ontario Beef has to compete against Alberta and Quebec beef. But the beef producers in those provinces have much better support from their provincial governments.

Unlike the dairy, goat, sheep, pork and poultry industry the beef industry has not had as great an influx of European farmers to take up the slack and keep the industry relatively younger. The few European beef farmers have largely gravitated to these other livestock sectors because of the ongoing low prices of beef and better future prospects. I say 10-15 years tops, and maybe sooner, and you may not be able to get Ontario beef in Ontario supermarkets. The local food movement cannot sustain the huge beef industry (yet??) and the economic spin-offs from the beef sector are huge. But Dithering Dalton is playing politics with the risk management program rather than embarrassing the federal conservatives by going it alone. I would love to hear from more beef farmers to let me know what you think. I think I am correct in my analysis though. “You don't know what you've got till it's gone” says Canadian singer Joni Mitchell in her classic song “Big Yellow Taxi”. I guess Dalton McGuinty and Harper would rather we pave paradise and put up a parking lot.

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