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COVID-19 adds to beef sector challenges

COVID-19 adds to beef sector challenges

Beef farmers across Eastern Canada are looking for government support to help overcome obstacles exacerbated by the current crisis

By Jackie Clark
Staff Writer

The COVID-19 crisis has accentuated challenges faced by beef farmers in Eastern Canada. Provincial beef organizations are working together with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) to propose solutions to the federal and provincial governments.

“The biggest issue we’ve been trying to address with all levels of government for close to two years is the lack of processing capacity,” Rob Lipsett, president of the Beef Farmers of Ontario (BFO), told

BFO representatives felt the issue was being largely dismissed by government, however, the closure of Ryding-Regency Meat Packers LTD. in December 2019 “started to spark interest that there really was a problem,” Lipsett said. By early March, beef industry lobby groups were making some progress with government by showing data outlining industry losses due to limited capacity.

Then COVID-19 became the prominent issue, and the Ontario government declared a state of emergency on Mar. 17.

“We kind of slowed down on the lobbying, because of course, like all of society, farmers’ first priority is for the health of our consumer,” Lipsett explained. However, it became clear very quickly that the pandemic would exacerbate existing industry challenges.

“Our food supply chain is not as secure as maybe government had been led to believe,” Lipsett said. “We recognized in the beef industry quite quickly that if we started to lose processing plants, especially in Eastern Canada that we’d be in dire straits.”

And so BFO, along with other provincial beef organizations throughout Eastern Canada put out an urgent message to the government in the form of a video outlining the challenges, and calling for action.

“We thought that it was time to deliver that message,” Lipsett explained. Representatives from the Eastern Canadian beef sector wanted to warn government that “things are at a tipping point.”

Beef industry leaders are asking for the government’s support during this crisis.

The CCA has identified that the “set-aside program” that was used in years following BSE would be an emergency measure to deal with plant closures.

“That is a good option for Eastern Canada so that we could spread out the marketing of the animals so that we (don’t) have backlogs in processing during surge periods. It was a fairly reasonable way to compensate people to even the flow of market animals throughout the year,” Lipsett explained.

So far, much of the government’s financial support for Canadians is not applicable to farmers, he added.

Beef farmers need “some sort of a cash infusion program. It’s been indicated to us that, if they do anything financially, they would prefer to use existing programs to apply that money to industry,” Lipsett said.

Industry representatives are investigating the possibilities of enhancing existing AgriInvest and AgriStability programs.

They are looking at “moving to a 7.5 per cent infusion of adjusted net sales over the traditional 5 per cent with no matching producer investment necessary would be a quick and easy way to get some money flowing through the economy,” Lipsett explained. They have also recommended that government “return the AgriStability to the prior funding levels of 85 per cent of your margin limit trigger and removing the 30 per cent reference margin limiting, and taking some of the caps off the program.”

In Ontario, “we’ve also been asking the government to remove the cap from the risk management program as well,” he added.

Using existing programs should allow for accurate and timely payments to account for losses incurred by farmers facing COVID-19 challenges. At the same time, the current crisis is certainly drawing attention to flaws and gaps in industry capacity programming available to beef farmers, Lipsett said.

“Moving forward it’s really going to help our case to show that there are things that industry can’t bear on its own and it’s time for government to come to the table and listen to the solutions that we come up with and partner with us to get positive outcomes,” he said.

erdinhasdemir\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo

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