District cattle farmers need action from government

There will be more cattle and fewer farmers in the district by the end of 2004 if governments don’t take action soon, one local cattle farmer warns.
Suspicions the one dairy cow in Washington state that was stricken with mad cow disease originated in Canada has caused the U.S. government to postpone re-opening its borders to live cattle from Canada indefinitely.
The U.S. initially had said it would consider accepting live cattle from Canada that were under 30 months of age, but with that decision now on hold, time could be running out for some Canadian farmers.
“To me, it doesn’t really matter where the cow came from,” Kim Jo Bliss said yesterday from her farm near Emo. “It will effect us either way.”
Bliss, who also is a research technician at the agricultural research station in Emo, said the continued embargo against the transport of live cattle across the U.S. border soon will become an impossible burden for some farmers if things don’t change.
That’s especially true for those, unlike her, who do not have a source of off-farm income.
The real problem, said Bliss, is farmers currently are carrying far more animals over the winter than is usually the case.
Traditionally, farmers—both beef and dairy—would have sold off up to 10 percent of their herds by now, but with prices being so low, it is often impossible to do so without actually incurring costs.
The alternative is to carry the animals over the winter and incur feeding expenses instead.
“What can we do?” Bliss wondered. “I think it will be tough if things don’t get straightened out. We could soon have double the number of cattle.”
Bliss said farmers are pleased by the way consumers have stepped up and tried to buy Canadian beef, but that isn’t enough.
“People have been great,” she acknowledged. “Consumption of beef is actually up, but we still can’t get decent prices for it.”
So if people still are paying good prices for steak and hamburgers, where is the money going?
“Meat packers and retailers are doing fine because of the demand, but farmers are only being paid a fraction of what they got a year ago,” Bliss explained.
“We need to be able to slaughter our own animals.”
And therein lies the problem. With access to abattoirs south of the border closed, local farmers are forced to ship their animals to Alberta or southern Ontario to have them processed.
And with the low prices being paid, it simply isn’t worth it.
“The government needs to get involved,” Bliss suggested.
She stressed farmers are not asking for direct subsidies, but rather the means to deliver their animals to market at reduced costs—at least until prices firm up.
“We need an abattoir here [in the district] and we need it yesterday,” she lamented.
Plans have been in the works for more than a year to build a federally-certified abattoir in the west end of the district, but there has not been any word yet as to when it will be ready to handle local livestock.
Until that happens, district farmers will continue to be stuck with unwanted, unmarketable animals. And with calving season almost here, the situation could force some out of business.
“I think we’re going to see people get out of it,” Bliss predicted.