Ontario beef industry tackles slaughter capacity issue

There are many factors holding back a potential increase to slaughter capacity

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The top priority for the Beef Farmers of Ontario during the past year has been addressing the lack of slaughter capacity, a situation made worse with the cancellation of Ryding-Regency Meat Packer’s licence in early December.

Why it matters: High demand for Ontario beef means slaughter capacity must increase or market opportunities will be lost.

Rob Lipsett.
photo: Supplied

“Ryding-Regency represented around 10 per cent of the federally inspected kill in Ontario or about 1,500 head a week,” BFO vice-president Rob Lipsett said at the Beef Day of the Grey-Bruce Farmer’s Week in Elmwood.

Lipsett said that the oversupply in the system is due mainly to tremendous growth in the cattle feeding industry and more cull cows from dairy. Even though the herd numbers have remained steady over the past five years at about 280,000, forecasts for slaughter are up by about 13.5 per cent for 2019.

Until recently, some of the oversupply could go to northeastern U.S. states, but those plants are also at capacity. The timing of the cattle markets creates bottlenecks at certain times of the year, as well.

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“We’ve worked closely with the CCA (Canadian Cattlemen’s Association), federal and provincial governments trying to get to what the problem is and how to resolve it,” he said, adding that it’s an Eastern Canada problem that’s starting to be felt across the country.

With demand for beef staying strong globally, he said, there’s an opportunity to capitalize, but only if the processing capacity is there to supply it.

Besides lobbying and setting up a letter-writing campaign, over the short-term, BFO is asking the government to fast-track a labour pilot project aimed at getting more workers into processing plants under the temporary foreign workers program.

It has suggested extending slaughter days into the weekends and asked the government for transportation assistance to help producers get their cattle to Alberta plants that currently have a bit more capacity.

The BFO is also debating whether to ask for a direct payment program that would compensate producers who are having to take price discounts because their cattle are arriving at market as heavies and overweights.

Over the medium term — six months to two years — they’re pushing for double shifts at processing facilities and going back to evening and weekend shifts.

They’re also lobbying to speed up the process of getting Canada’s BSE status upgraded to negligible from controlled risk under the United Nation’s OIE rules. Under the current rules, a country has to be BSE-free for 11 years from the birth date of the last infected cow. The current plan is to have Canada’s status upgraded in March 2021.

Demand for the more stringent status from South Korea has meant that U.S. plants must segregate out Canadian cattle – something they’ve been loath to do. It’s meant cutting off yet another slaughter outlet and the BFO and CCA have been working with both countries on resolving the issue.

“We’re looking to establish a fund to help provincial inspected plants to become federally inspected plants and we’re also looking at harmonizing our provincial inspection regime with that of Quebec’s, so that could be another outlet,” Lipsett said.

Over the longer term, they’re looking to the government for help in building new or adding on to existing plants and getting a new federal packing plant up and running in Eastern Canada.

A conference participant suggested a producer co-operative approach to developing a kill and chill plant. Lipsett said that they’ve been looking at talking to the owners of Conestoga Packers to potentially model a beef facility on the successful pork processing co-operative.

The BFO has been working on marketing, financed by the $1.50 increase in checkoff fees that was approved at the organization’s last annual meeting.

“We’ve re-branded our Ontario beef program and launched a new website,” Lipsett said, adding that the new logo was developed after focus groups were conducted with consumers.

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