Purebred, other beef producers facing challenges from COVID-19

“The sale barns have a much different atmosphere when you are used to having a crowd of about 200”

Alberta’s beef industry was one of the sectors to feel the effects of COVID-19 restrictions almost immediately.

Kolton Kasur, who operates K3 Ranch near Bashaw and is a zone director for the Alberta Beef Producers, recalled the start of the spring sales season was setting up to be really strong.

“You never really know what to expect, and it did start out quite strong,” he said.

“With the news of the coronavirus lingering overseas, it seemed as if everyone was anxiously waiting to see what affect it was going to have, as it was already being blamed for downward pressure on the heavier feeder cattle sales.”

Kasur said it was business as usual, even when the province placed the 250-person limit on gatherings.

“It wasn’t until it was tightened up to 50, and then lower, that producers really started to worry,” said Kasur, who also helps operate Reich Angus with his extended family.

“The sale barns have a much different atmosphere when you are used to having a crowd of about 200.”

While many traditional producers faced price impacts, purebred breeders such as Kasur had other challenges when it came to adhering to the new restrictions.

“It really changed the sale process. A lot of breeders, including ourselves, provide an option for buyers to bid online, and we were sure thankful to have had a company booked when the lower restriction came into effect the day before our sale,” he said.

“Not everyone had that option, leaving a number scrambling to get reorganized.”

Buyers also had to adjust, with many forced to do a lot more research and homework on the animals ahead of time, knowing they couldn’t be there in person to check out the animals.

While sales of purebred animal stock has remained steady, Kasur and other producers who send stock to market are starting to get a bit anxious, as prices have fallen 10 to 20 per cent in recent weeks.

“One of the industry’s biggest concerns right now is the reduction in shifts taking place at a large meat packing plant and how other potential shutdowns or production reductions could further affect the market,” he said.

The Cargill plant near High River had its slaughter production slowed significantly after 821 workers were confirmed to have the virus. The number of workers and shifts were cut in order to meet health and distancing guidelines. It plans on opening with a single shift Monday.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association has called for a co-ordinated program that would have producers hang onto cattle longer before slaughter, similar to what was instituted in 2004, when the market was nearly devastated by the BSE crisis.

Producers who volunteered to hold back a certain number of head would receive some compensation for the cost of feeding the animals for longer.

“What we’re needing to do now is to essentially slow down the supply chain, because we don’t have the processing capacity that we normally would have,” said Fawn Jackson, the association’s director of government and international affairs.

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