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Should You Stay Or Should You Go?

There’s a lot of soul searching on cow-calf operations across the country. Producers are wrestling with whether to stay in the business or cut their losses and get rid of the cows.

With the fall calf run now in full swing, the immediate economic outlook has worsened. The rapid increase in the value of the Canadian dollar has pressured prices lower.

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture reports that for the week of Oct. 3, feeder cattle exports to the U. S. were down 72 per cent as compared to the same week in 2008.

In addition to the value of the dollar, Canadian exports and prices are being harmed by American country-of-origin labelling (COOL). Some packing plants are not sourcing Canadian livestock while others are only buying at a discount.

The federal government has launched a World Trade Organization challenge of COOL. Unfortunately, even if the challenge goes well, it’s likely to take a long time to get results.

The tough times are spurring a couple of important initiatives.

The first elections for the new Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association are taking place at meetings across the province. Eleven meetings started Oct. 20 in Carlyle and they end Nov. 6 in Tisdale.

In three of the 11 districts, the director is in by acclamation. Candidates in the other eight include some prominent names from the Saskatchewan Stock Growers and Saskatchewan Cattle Feeders as well as relative newcomers to cowboy politics.

Will the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association be able to accomplish any more than the long-standing membership-based organizations – the Stock Growers and the Cattle Feeders? Time will tell. There aren’t any easy answers.

The dismal state of the industry is also spurring a more in-depth evaluation of production costs. The Western Beef Development Centre, in partnership with AgMpower and Spring Creek Consulting is offering cost-of-production workshops.

Leo Kosokowsky of AgMpower has developed new software for doing in-depth calculations and analysis for cattle operations. Sandy Russell of Spring Creek Consulting is a well-known beef industry economist.

The upcoming workshops will kick-start that effort once again.

The workshops are Nov. 12 in Weyburn, Nov. 16 in Swift Current, Nov. 17 in North Battleford and Nov. 18 in Tisdale. There’s room for only about 50 producers in total, but if the demand is strong, more workshops are likely to be organized.

Participants will get a free copy of the new Internet-based software and they’ll work to input their own information. The financial results will be aggregated and released so that all cattle producers will be able to benchmark how their costs compare.

Registration is free, but there are a limited number of seats. Producers should call the Western Beef Development Centre at 1-800-567-7264 to register for a workshop. More information can be found at

Profitable times should eventually return to the cow-calf sector, but there’s no light at the end of the tunnel yet. Producers who take an interest in the election process are looking to the future. So are producers who want a better handle on their cost of production.

These are the producers hoping to sustain their operations until there’s finally some money to be made.

Kevin Hursh is a professional agrologist and farmer based in Saskatoon. He can be reached at [email protected]

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