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Canadian Bison Industry Struggling with the COVID-19 Pandemic

Many of the challenges being experienced by cattle and hog producers in Canada right now, are also being felt by those who raise bison.
 
The virus means many restaurants haven't been ordering their usual supply of bison meat. There's been a small shift to retail and direct consumer sales but it hasn't been enough to offset big losses for the bison industry. Les Krooger is chair of the Canadian Bison Association and notes that trade to the US has been very important.  "The bison industry in Canada, a lot of producers rely on that trade to the US, so US borders have stayed open for the slaughter animals going south.  That's a good thing."
 
The problem is that producers are dealing with a backlog of animals, both in Canada and the US.  "It is putting pressure on everybody," notes Krooger.  "We've seen slaughter prices drop in excess of 20 percent.  They've gone from $5.00 rail price down to $3.50.  Recently, the slaughter numbers in Canada, have dropped by over 80 percent from April 4 to May 2."
 
Krooger also notes that most bison go to the restaurants trade in Canada and Europe.  "A lot of the bison in the Canada market goes to restaurant and the European market.  As that European market got hit with the same barriers, one of the biggest things that happened to us there is, not only did the restaurants close, the Swiss market was very big for bison and they closed the borders off to everything coming in.  On top of that, freight rates have increased by up to four fold.  That's another big hurdle that we just can't overcome when you start paying those kind of freight rates."
 
The situation is very similar to cattle producers with the back log of animals that are ready.  What producers are doing is focusing on the farm direct marketing, that has always been a big part of the bison business, but are now seeing competition from cattle and hog producers trying to do the same thing.
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