It would be something of an understatement to say the Manitoba cattle industry faced a tough year in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a pair of industry experts.
“Prices were volatile and then very flat in the second half of the year,” commented Brian Perillat, manager and senior analyst for CanFax.
He noted that prices for fed cattle on the Prairies were roughly $15 to $20 per hundredweight lower compared to a year ago.
Besides the pandemic, Perillat said the increase in the Canadian dollar adversely affected the market as well. The loonie, particularly over the last few months of 2020, surpassed the 78-U.S.-cent mark, which made Canadian exports more expensive.
Dianne Riding, president of the Manitoba Beef Producers (MBP), noted that prices were hit and miss throughout the year.
“We have seen some producers get fairly decent prices. Some of the prices were not quite as good as folks would have hoped for,” she said.
“We are very thankful that we could still market livestock. It could have been a whole lot worse,” Riding added.
When the first round of lockdown measures were imposed earlier this year, MBP along with its provincial counterparts, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and the Livestock Marketing Association of Canada lobbied federal and provincial governments to declare cattle an essential service.
However, a few factors going into prices were out of the control of cattle producers, such as the backlog of cattle at feedlots. With COVID-19 a number of slaughter plants in Canada were forced to close temporarily, causing a buildup of cattle in the feedlots.
“It’s taken us pretty much the entire calendar year to work through that backlog,” said Perillat, noting that at one point feedlots were losing $200 to $250 per head.
One element he cited that helped eliminate the backlog was transitioning away from providing large amounts of beef to restaurants to channelling much of that product to the consumers.
Other than prices, Riding mentioned a few other issues that affected Manitoba cattle producers. One example being the increases in rent on Crown lands during the last couple of years. Another issue being the lack of informed access of people venturing on those Crown lands rented by producers. A third being the need for a new system to evaluate those Crown lands after a producer has improved them with new fences or watering systems.
The MBP president acknowledged progress was made with the provincial government regarding legacy leaseholders, who are now able to transfer those lands to family members. Also, she said the province is providing funding for a joint project with MBP and the Manitoba Sheep Association to deal with predators.
While the feed shortage in Manitoba was largely rectified during 2020, Riding pointed to the Arborg and Ashern areas in the Interlake region where some producers still had shortages.
“We are very thankful to the grain industry that allowed them to access straw this year,” she said.
Over the course of the first couple of weeks of January, Manitoba’s cattle auctions will resume their sales. Check with your local auction.