Ontario cattle industry continues to face challenges

David Trivers of the Canadian Agricultural Partnership speaks to Island cattlemen.

SPRING BAY – The Manitoulin Cattlemen’s Association/Manitoulin Soil and Crop Improvement Association joint annual meeting was held on January 16 at the Spring Bay Hall. The day-long event brought in a sizeable attendance from Island beef farmers who came to learn about current and future developments in the industry—and to elect a slate of directors for 2020.

In Beef Farmers of Ontario news, a major increase in the check-off fee (amount passed on to the BFO per carcass) was passed by an 87 percent margin at the BFO annual general meeting. The jump in check-off fees was lobbied for “passionately” by the BFO board and executive, noted Jordan Miller, BFO Northern director.

Mr. Miller noted that premium beef sales have “lifted all boats in the trade” when it comes to international trade, but cautioned that the ongoing bottleneck in slaughterhouse capacity continues to bedevil the industry, especially with the recent closure of a major facility due to a loss of licence by the operating company.

An election of officers was facilitated by David Trivers, Canadian Agricultural Partnership workshop coordinator. The Manitoulin Cattlemen’s Association (MCA) slate for 2020 includes president John McNaughton, treasurer Brent Best and directors Dave McDermid, Scott Runnalls, Chris Noland, Bruce Orford, Rob Davidson and Max Burt. Nick Martin will once again fill the role of County Advisor.

Brent Best, Cameron Runnalls and John McNaughton were selected as the two Beef Farmers of Ontario delegates and alternate (to be decided depending on availability).

When it came to the Soil and Crop report, it was noted that there is some welcome news on the horizon for those dealing with wildlife damage to crops in the form of an effective bird repellant, as the company that has developed the repellant is currently seeking a pathway to becoming registered for use in Canada.

On the disappointing side, while there is continuing support for livestock depredation compensation at the provincial level in Ontario, there is still no movement toward providing compensation for crop losses.

Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (OMAFRA) local agricultural representative Julie Porier Mensinga out of the Verner office introduced herself to the MCA members and gave a brief synopsis of her CV. She is currently working on a pan-Northern research project and committed herself to finding answers to any questions her clients might have. “I am glad to be working with you,” she said. 

Jordan Miller, Beef Farmers of Ontario Northern director, talks to the Manitoulin Cattlemen’s Association/Soil and Crop Improvement Association during its joint annual general meeting. photo by Michael Erskine

Ms. Poirier Mensinga noted that while the Manitoulin District is not struggling with a shortage of large animal and horse veterinarian services, a gap still exists when it comes to services for other animal groups. It is an issue common to regions across the North, she noted.

When it comes to deer damage to crops in the area, a concern on an ongoing basis, Ms. Poirier Mensinga noted that the MNRF has said that last year’s numbers were not as big a problem, possibly due to the previous harsh winter.

Mr. Trivers pointed out that farmers will need to update their environmental farm plan in order to meet current criteria. “If you already have an environmental plan in place, you might have a bit of work to do.” New aspects of the environmental farm plan could have an impact. He advised that there are two program paths: attend one-day workshops running from January 8 to 29 or go online to complete the course. The course can be found at OntarioProgramGuide.net.

A key focus change in the plans relates to sustainability, he noted.

There are programs that will pay up to 25 percent of the cost of environmental upgrades, such as replacing a manure pile with a building, but farmers will need to have an environmental farm plan to apply.

One program Mr. Trivers outlined is a songbird protection plan where farmers could be eligible for a $40 per acre payment if they don’t harvest until after July 15. Programs will also pay to remove trees from agricultural land.

LAMBAC economic development officer Diane Newlands outlined this year’s Lacloche Manitoulin Tile Drainage Program details. She pointed out that the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation will fund 50 percent of the drainage contractor to a maximum of $500 per acre and LAMBAC will offer no interest loan assistance for the other 50 percent. There was some surprise evinced by members of the audience when Ms. Newlands suggested that the cost of tile drainage would likely run to “just over $1,000 an acre.” She pointed out that the economies of scale of working as a consortium has enabled a significant savings.

To be eligible for the program the applicant must have a farm registration number, confirmation of ownership of the acreage to be tiled (or a long-term, at least six year, lease). There will also be a requirement for invoices and proof of payment from the farmer. There is no limit on the number of acres to be tiled. The anticipated project timelines are spring, summer and fall of 2020.

Ms. Newlands encouraged those interested in taking part to let her know as soon as possible. Her contact information is 705-282-3215 or by email at diane@lambac.org.

Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha was in attendance for the MCA meeting and addressed the members on what he has been doing at Queen’s Park.

“This is definitely a different government” when it comes to approach from when they were first elected, he noted. “At first they want to change things, less confrontational, but by the next sitting it was clear that old habits are hard to get rid of.” He noted that in the current contract dispute with teachers the government has been giving “a lot of misinformation to parents.” He pointed out that his background is in labour negotiations.

Hydro costs are still a big issue across his riding, Mr. Mantha noted, citing the recent false alarm at the Darlington facility.

One of the key issues in the agricultural sector facing his party is the new “PAWS” legislation dealing with trespass. “We are mostly in favour,” he said of the proposed legislation, but added the caveat that there are serious flaws particularly with the concept of retroactive trespass. For instance, the legislation in its current form could have a chilling effect on the legitimate concerns of whistleblowers. The new animal protection legislation has challenges in the lack of funding.

In market reports, Mr. Miller noted that beef prices are down, but that the cow inventory appears to have stabilized.

While cow exports are up January to October from 2017, they were down from 2018’s numbers. Exports to the US average around 34,000, but this year stood at 31,000 head. Ontario beef sales can be accessed online at ontbeef.ca.

Target markets, according to focus groups conducted by Hill and Nolton Strategies, show that the best bang for the marketing buck will be women over 30 in the Toronto region.

Mr. Miller encouraged farmers to “harass Mike” in lobbying local elected officials. “We are here and we matter,” he noted, adding that the BFO has talking points available to farmers who might be less loquacious or comfortable in framing the arguments.

As previously mentioned, there is not enough slaughter capacity in the province. “We have the product, we have the demand, but regulations regarding processing cattle in Ontario is very rigorous,” he said, while noting that food safety is everyone’s primary concern.

Potentially devastating to cattle producers are the new regulations regarding transportation of animals. “The new regulations take effect on February 20,” said Mr. Miller. 

Under the old regulations, the maximum time an animal could be on the truck was 48 hours. “With grace time that could extend to 52 hours,” he noted. Now there is no grace period and the maximum time is set at 36 hours. Rest time between loadings has increased from five hours to eight hours.

The BFO is asking the province to commit to maintaining $50 million in funding for the Risk Management Program. A review has been underway for close to a year and the BFO is not anticipating much of a change.

The BFO research program for 2020-2022 has $200,000 per year for three years, with the following priorities: animal health and welfare, antimicrobial use, resistance and alternatives, food safety, forages, environmental sustainability and “other,” which includes feed efficiency, nutrition and beef quality etc.

The BFO AGM will take place February 19-20 at the Delta Hotels by Marriott Toronto Airport and Conference Centre.