~ And yet more news (aka. the joy of nightshift in calving season)~
Statistics Canada says mad cow crisis saw livestock exports plummet in 2004
February 18, 2005
WINNIPEG (CP) - With a crucial U.S border opening just weeks away, Canada's beef producers have been handed some hard numbers on the toll the mad cow crisis has taken.
New Statistics Canada figures released Thursday indicate that due to the crisis and plummeting sales, farmers have been forced to deal not only with low revenues, but also with the high cost of maintaining record-sized herds.
"The BSE crisis has resulted in record numbers of cattle on Canadian farms," the agency wrote in its annual report on livestock estimates.
"It has also crippled the nation's value of beef exports to the world."
Cattle and beef exports in 2004 totalled $1.9 billion - less than half the amount recorded in 2002.
Because markets were hard to find, the national cattle herd swelled to a record level - 15.1 million head - in January of this year.
The crisis has left many farmers struggling.
"Your inventory grows, your cash flow depletes and it just puts you in a very, very awkward position," said Keith Robertson, executive director of the Manitoba Cattle Producers Association.
Robertson said the situation has been slow to improve since May 2003, when one case of mad cow disease - bovine spongiform encephalopathy - was found in Alberta.
That discovery prompted the United States and other countries to close their borders to Canadian cattle. Limited exports of some beef products resumed in the fall of 2003, but total industry losses are pegged at $7 billion.
The U.S. is set to lift its ban on live cattle under 30 months on March 7. A decision to allow in beef products from older animals - 30 months and older - has been delayed given recent discoveries of more mad cow cases in Canada.
Younger animals are considered at lower risk of contracting mad cow disease.
Robertson said the March 7 border opening is encouraging but added "there is still a very cautious attitude out there."
An industry analyst agreed there may still be hurdles for Canadian producers.
"The devil's in the details," said Ken Perlich, an instructor of agricultural economics at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta.
"What kind of brands (the U.S.) is going to want on, what kind of inspection services they're going to want performed on cattle - that's going to really tell the tale as to how many of those excess cattle will cross the border after March 7."
Alberta's agriculture minister, Doug Horner, has said he expects a lag time to get the cattle trucking industry revved up again. Nevertheless, there are projections that between 700,000 and 900,000 young animals will be sent south in the year following the border reopening.
Perlich said governments and some industry groups bear some responsibility for the large herd size.
"There was some underlying feeling that the border would open quickly and people may not have changed up their production habits," said Perlich.