Cattlemen ‘cautiously optimistic’ over U.S. border re-opening

There was no party at Kim Cornell’s La Vallee ranch last week.
Sure he, like thousands of other cattlemen across the country, received word Thursday that the U.S. border finally would be re-opened to live Canadian beef exports under the age of 30 months, but there were no streamers or champagne.
“No, I rode a tractor until 10 o’clock last night,” Cornell said Friday morning. “Then I came in, ate dinner, and went to bed.”
After hearing arguments last Wednesday, a Seattle appeals court announced Thursday its decision to overturn a temporary injunction that had kept the border closed since March, when Washington made its first significant move to lift the ban on Canadian beef imports.
The border closure had been in effect since an Alberta cow tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as “mad cow disease,” back in May, 2003.
But many district ranchers warned it would be premature to close the book on the BSE saga just yet. While they agree the border opening is a step in the right direction, they are wary of the news, pointing out a number of key issues still need to be resolved.
“There is kind of a sigh of relief, a bit of optimism, but it is cautious,” said Peter Spuzak, a Devlin rancher and former president of the Rainy River Cattlemen’s Association.
“Cautiously optimistic—that’s about as simple as you can put it.
“There’s no two ways about it, it is good news,” added Spuzak. “But with what we lost, and with the price of fuel and our costs going up, I don’t think we’ll recover.
“I don’t think we’ll ever get back to normal.”
One major source of concern is the fact the issue will be back in an American courtroom—this time in Billings, Mont.—next week, where a protectionist group of U.S. ranchers is bidding to have the border closed for good.
Amos Brielmann, who currently has about 1,500 head of cattle on his ranch north of Pinewood, said there’s no use celebrating until that case has been resolved.
“Before this is done, I’m not holding my breath,” he remarked. “I’m not excited yet.”
“We’ll be kind of waiting and seeing,” echoed Spuzak. “They could pretty well do the same [darn] thing—close the border.”
That’s a possibility Cornell certainly is aware of. “We got 13 days of good news,” he said Friday. “That’s when the next court case is.”
Even if district court Judge Richard Cebull does rule in favour of allowing live Canadian beef exports to cross the border, not every animal will be eligible to be shipped south.
Last week’s announcement only applies to animals under the age of 30 months.
“We have all kinds of animals over 30 months of age and what do we do with them?” wondered Spuzak.
“You can’t just ship any cow down there,” noted Brielmann, who estimated about one-third of his herd is ineligible to be exported to the U.S. because of the age restrictions.
Also under the new regulations, each animal will have to wear a frequency tag, have their exact date of birth registered, and have all their information verified before they can leave the farm, Brielmann said.
“You have to understand that it will never be the same as it used be,” he remarked. “It used to be load them up and [count] one, two, three, four, five, and away the truck the truck goes.
“Now, every time you handle cattle, you have to have an extra person with a book in their hand. . . . The amount of book-keeping we have to do is outrageous.”
Unfortunately, said Spuzak, it’s the ranchers—not the grocers or the consumers—who’ll have to bear the additional cost of meeting the new requirements.
“There’s about 100 pages of rules we’ve got to follow to export our cattle to the United States,” he noted. “There’s going to be new rules and those new rules are put on the people that produce the product.”
Last week, Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Ken Boshcoff, referring to the March injunction as “an unfortunate and unnecessary delay,” vowed to stick with the issue until cows of all ages were crossing the U.S. border.
In the meantime, district cattlemen are keeping their fingers crossed that the issue will clear its next hurdle and the marketplace will improve soon.
While most ranchers in this area don’t actually export their animals to the U.S. (they instead sell their stock to other Canadian cattlemen, who hang on to them for a year to two before sending them south), everyone will benefit if the border is re-opened over the long-term.
“If this happens and we can ship to the United States, it’ll be a huge relief for me,” Brielmann said. “The first thing we will see is our cow prices will go up.”
“It’ll hopefully benefit everybody,” echoed Spuzak. “[Ranchers] should be getting more fair prices for their cattle.”
Meanwhile, Russell Richards, one of a handful of district cattlemen working to see plans to build an abattoir in the west end of the district come to fruition, said Monday that even if the U.S. border does re-open, his group is moving forward.
Richards, along with a pair of other local ranchers, was slated to meet with Boshcoff on Tuesday to update the MP on the group’s progress.