A recent outbreak of E. coli at one of Canada’s largest beef-processing plants continued to affect Manitoba cattle producers during the week ended Oct. 5.
“We are seeing prices being impacted, especially for cattle that were going for slaughter,” said Cam Dahl, operations manager with Manitoba Beef Producers.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency on Sept. 24 temporarily suspended XL Foods’ licence to operate its Lakeside meat-packing plant at Brooks, Alta. following a number of E. coli-related recalls of beef from the facility.
The list of products being recalled grew larger by the day throughout the first week of October, while the plant remained closed. The plant was also banned from exporting products to the U.S. on Sept. 13.
The Lakeside plant processes about a third of Canada’s beef, which is why the temporary close impacts a large number of cattle producers across the country — including those in Manitoba.
For the most part, Dahl said, Manitoba producers were able to hold out for higher prices during the week ended Oct. 5.
“I think at this point most producers who were planning to move cattle to market have been able to press the ‘pause’ button,” he said. “But, this doesn’t apply to all producers, because everybody’s situation and marketing plan is different.”
Very low volumes of slaughter cattle were reported at auction marts across the province during the week, as farmers waited for Lakeside to reopen, which would help demand pickup again.
Dahl noted producers will only be able to press the “pause” button for so long, and if the plant remains closed for an extended period of time, they could start to see some longer-term impacts.
What those impacts will be in Manitoba if the closure goes on for a long time is still up in the air. It’s just a “wait and see” situation, Dahl said.
One positive in the beef recalls is that they show Canada’s food safety system works, he said.
“All of this recall is voluntary on XL Foods’ part, and was not triggered by people in the hospital,” Dahl said. “And that’s good. That’s what it should be; it shows that consumers have reason to be confident in the system.”
Another positive is that feeder cattle prices haven’t been impacted a great amount by the closing of the plant. Most auction marts across Manitoba reported steady to slightly lower prices for feeder cattle during the week ended Oct. 5.
Strong demand, paired with limited supplies, helped keep prices afloat despite the closed plant and high feed costs, analysts said.
Demand for Manitoba cattle came from both Canada’s East and West. There was also good local demand at some auction marts in the province during the week.
Good-quality calves brought the strongest prices, while heavier calves experienced a little bit of downward pressure and yearlings were slightly lower, but only by a couple of cents per pound, market watchers reported.
The number of feeder cattle sent to market during the week also continued to grow at almost all of the auction marts across the province, with the exception of Winnipeg Livestock Sales.
Winnipeg Livestock Sales reported having only 427 feeder cattle for sale on Oct. 5 — about half as many as the week prior. However, more calves are expected to hit the market next week, the auction market reported.
Many areas of the province received some rain and snowfall during the week, which was beneficial for farmers who’ve faced water shortages.
Despite the snow, Dahl said winter is still a while away and noted there isn’t anything special farmers will have to look out for this winter.