Saskatchewan Program Worries Manitoba Livestock Producers

“We’re not happy about this.”

– andrew dickson, mpc

Manitoba livestock producers say a $71 million hog and cattle support program announced last week not only gives Saskatchewan producers an unfair advantage, it could lead to trade retaliation from the United States.

“There’s a very real possibility,” said Andrew Dickson, Manitoba Pork Council general manager. “We’re not happy about this.”

The program, announced Feb. 26 by Agriculture Minister Bob Bjornerud, will pay Saskatchewan hog producers $20 for each market hog and $10 for each weanling, isowean and feeder pig sold between July 1, 2008 and January 31, 2009.

Cattle producers will receive $40 for each beef breeding cow and bred beef heifer owned as of January 1, 2009.

Maximum payments are $2 million per operation. Boars, sows, feeder cattle and dairy cattle are not eligible.

Joe Bouchard, Manitoba Cattle Producers Association president, said the program puts Manitoba beef producers at a disadvantage. “It’s $40 a cow their guys are getting to help with cash flow or to buy whatever they need to operate that we don’t have here in Manitoba.”

But Bouchard and Dickson said they were not so much concerned about the money as they were about a possible trade challenge if the U. S. sees the payments as an unfair subsidy. “To have money with no strings attached brings up the risk of a trade challenge and that’s the last thing we need right now for our industry,” Bouchard said.

Bouchard said MCPA is also asking for provincial support of $100 a cow. But the money would be tied to an environmental goods and services program for cattle producers proposed by the association.

A spokesperson for Manitoba Agriculture Minister Rosann Wowchuk indicated Manitoba isn’t about to follow the lead of other provinces in unilaterally announcing livestock support programs.

“Mani toba has always believed that taking a balanced approach is the best way – working with the federal government and trying to deliver programs that will work for producers,” the spokesperson said.

Hog producers are particularly leery because Manitoba is Canada’s largest exporter of live pigs to the U. S.

Hog and live cattle exports have fallen sharply in recent months because of the U. S. country-of-origin food labelling rule.

But Dickson noted Manitoba still exports large numbers of weanling pigs to the U. S. and the Saskatchewan program covers weanlings farrowed in the province and fed outside Canada.

Dickson said he and other pork council officials visited hog producer meetings in Minnesota and Iowa in January and trade issues with Canada were low on American producers’ minds at the time.

But that could change if protectionist forces in the U. S. see what they consider subsidized foreign animals coming into their market, said Dickson.

Saskatchewan producers, meanwhile, welcomed the program.

Ed Bothner, Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association president, said beef producers have been hard hit by a combination of lingering BSE fallout, high feed costs, a rise in the Canadian dollar and now COOL.

“Saskatchewan cow-calf producers appreciate the efforts being made by Agriculture Minister Bob Bjornerud and the provincial government to get badly needed financial assistance into the pockets of producers,” Bothner said in a statement.

Bjornerud said his government views its $71 million as a 40 per cent contribution. He called on Ottawa to come up with another 60 per cent, the way federal-provincial agriculture programs are usually funded.

But federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz poured cold water on the idea.

In a statement, Ritz said Saskatchewan floated the plan at a recent federal-provincial agriculture ministers’ meeting and every other province rejected it.

Ritz also warned about the risk of a trade challenge.

“Federal funding for this type of program would likely result in retaliation from our trading partners,” he said in a statement.

Alberta last year unilaterally launched its own livestock support program worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The program produced controversy both inside and outside the province. Producers in other provinces also fear trade retaliation as a result. Alberta beef producers object to mandatory provisions, including traceability and premise identification. [email protected]

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