Feds announce tax reprieve for local cattle farmers

Megan Walchuk

Area cattle farmers have been given a tax reprieve, to account for culled herds due to feed shortages.

This year, cattle farmers in Alberton, Chapple, Dawson, Emo, LaVallee, Lake of the Woods, Morley and the unorganized Rainy River region have been added to the list of Tax Deferral Regions by Agriculture and Agri-food Canada.

The livestock tax deferral program allows livestock producers in prescribed drought, flood or excess moisture regions to defer a portion of their 2019 sale proceeds of breeding livestock until their 2020 tax return. The program is offered in regions which saw forage shortfalls of 50 percent or more caused by drought or excess moisture, according to a government press release.

“Extreme and unpredictable weather made 2019 a very difficult year for many livestock producers across Canada. It is a priority for our Government to help our farmers and ranchers get the resources and support they need to manage and rebuild their herds,” said Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

It has been a difficult year for local cattle farmers, said calf-cow farmer Kim Jo Bliss. Drought conditions in summer were followed by flooding in the fall, leaving little usable hay in the fields for baling.

“What was out there, we couldn’t get at it,” she said. Wet conditions in the fall also kept cows out of pasture, and forced farmers to feed hay early.

“Normally, we can buy in from Manitoba or other regions, but the west is having big problems, too,” she said. “They’ve been struggling for a couple of years.”

The shortage of feed has forced many farmers across Canada to cull their herds prematurely, to prevent the stress of hunger on animals. China’s ban on beef and pork imports last year have compounded the problem – both factors have led to a glut in the Canadian market, driving down prices, and forcing farmers to take a 10 to 15 percent hit per head.

Agricultural insurance is an option for farmers. “But that’s a program you have to buy into. Unfortunately, not everyone belongs. It’s a personal choice,” noted Bliss. And even for those who opt in, agriculture insurance works differently than house or car insurance. Instead of making a claim and recouping the loss, reimbursement is based on sales for the year, and assessed on a case by case basis. There’s only so much money in the pool, and its split between participating farmers annually. Although they have a good idea what they may get back, it doesn’t always cover the full loss, she said.

Despite the hardships, cattle farmers in southern Ontario are in an even worse spot, noted Bliss, with large abattoirs being forced to close late last year, due to E. coli contaminated meat. Cattle are large, heavy animals, and must to go to market in time to prevent the physical stress of their own weight. With abattoirs closed, many southern Ontario farmers are struggling to get cattle into the market, risking undue stress on the animals.

“We’re lucky to have an abattoir here, but we’ve got to keep it open,” said Bliss.

Although spring is just around the corner, Bliss isn’t feeling optimistic for a quick fix for feed shortages.

“I think spring’s going to be tough. It was so wet going into winter, and we’ve had a lot of snow,” she said.

At best, farmers are still facing several months searching for hay supplies. Although grass can start coming up as soon as the snow disappears, pastures typically aren’t ready for grazing until June, she said.

“It’s been so wet, I think it’s going to be hard to get on the land. But I really hope I’m wrong.”