By Jackie-Kelly Pemberton, Director, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
OPINION – For more than a year, Ontario’s beef industry has been in a state of uncertainty and duress. Depressed market prices, trade and market access barriers, a shortage of processing capacity and most recently, the prolonged licence suspension for Ryding-Regency Meat Packers, a significant player in beef processing for Eastern Canada.
This critical processing capacity shortage – combined with a serious competitiveness crisis – is costing the sector millions of dollars in lost income, threatening the viability of Ontario beef farms, livestock truckers, auction barns, processors and other associated industries that make this billion-dollar sector thrive. The entire value chain is feeling the financial effects of these industry disruptions, not to mention the stress on farmers, businesses and their families.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) recognizes beef farmers have no immediate recourse to address these challenges. Many of these issues and uncertainties are out of the control of farmers. That’s why OFA has joined the call asking for immediate government action to aid in the resolution of the mounting threats facing Ontario farmers.
The beef industry needs urgent government support to mitigate financial losses, and to get market-ready cattle processed. Looking longer-term, a plan to support the expansion of processing capacity to service Ontario and Eastern Canada is needed. Too many processors have exited the sector in recent years, leaving too few processors to place bids on cattle to ensure a competitive, healthy marketplace. As a result, marketing options are reduced for Ontario farmers, squeezing financial margins even tighter.
Compounding an already difficult situation is the recent prolonged licence suspension of Ryding-Regency Meat Packers – an issue that needs to be resolved immediately. Periods of backlog in processing are becoming more frequent and severe, requiring farmers to feed cattle at increased costs for longer periods, resulting in producers being penalized for overweight animals when they finally secure processing space.
There continues to be a global demand for Ontario beef products, however due to the limited capacity of these processing plants, the opportunity for growth within the industry is significantly restricted.
Ontario beef farmers have been coping with depressed market prices as a result of the reduced processing capacity, trade disruptions and market access challenges for more than a year, with no end in sight. And the losses are mounting. Collective beef cattle farm losses in Ontario and Quebec have exceeded $150 million since January 2019. This is not sustainable.
In September, Beef Farmers of Ontario and Les Producteurs de bovins du Québec proposed a national implementation of an emergency Beef Cattle Investment and Assistance Program to help farmers in Ontario and Quebec mitigate market losses and the disturbances of recent trade and market disruptions.
OFA, together with Beef Farmers of Ontario are asking our provincial and federal governments for immediate support. The beef sector deserves and desperately needs urgent support and assistance.