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Lockdowns increase beef buying numbers, pandemic challenges still affecting producers


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More people bought and ate beef from the grocery store while locked down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“When the numbers go up, people buy more meat,” said Jennie Hodgen, a senior account manager at Merck Animal Health who was a keynote speaker during Beef Day Wednesday for the virtual viewers of Grey Bruce Farmers’ Week.

“It has been very interesting to watch,” she said.

The beef producer from Indiana was using statistics from the US in the presentation but said the figures would translate across North America and even more so in Canada where people buy more meat per person.

“People are actually making more trips to the store, in part because they’re making fewer trips to fast food and restaurants,” said Hodgen. “All around, meat has been a good winner.”

That isn’t to say the beef industry isn’t facing a looming threat. The younger population, Gen Z as they’re called, are about to enter the world of consumerism and are expected to affect trends for meat producers.

“This is a group that has had message after message on the environment and nutrition,” Hodgen said. “They may have a different viewpoint based on what they’ve had presented to them over the years.”

Hodgen showed a slide that said less than $1 of every $100 spent on meat is contributed by someone in the Gen Z age bracket. The question is, will this change when they get to the age of current Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, who are the biggest meat purchasers currently.

Or, will the “flexitarian” shift move further away from meat because of concerns about animal welfare, cost, and the environment.

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Hodgen seemed optimistic the beef industry could tell a better story and help influence the younger population as they enter the workforce.

Earlier in the day Beef Farmers of Ontario President Rob Lipsett walked viewers through the BFOs’ operations in 2021 and looked ahead to the new year.

Lipsett said the BFO is advocating for increased funding for Ontario’s Risk Management Program, enhancements to other BRM programs, labour and infrastructure supports for beef processors, and solutions to address the lack of vets in Ontario as the 2022 provincial election looms.

Beef processing capacity remains a top priority for the group.

“We share our members’ concerns regarding processing backlogs, labour shortages, loss of market opportunities and depressed returns to producers resulting largely from the current processing availability or lack thereof,” Lipsett said.

He noted it’s not just a lack of infrastructure, but the lack of skilled workers that need to be remedied in the province.

BFO continues to lobby governments, and both the federal and provincial governments have been open to talks about more programming and ways to increase processing capacity as well as supports for the sector.

Government commitments in 2021 included $700,000 for deadstock management.

“As we head into the winter months it’s making on-farm deadstock solutions difficult for producers to implement. We’ve been advised ministry staff are looking into landfill or transfer-station-based solutions,” Lipsett said.

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Over $30 million across two programs was committed to increasing meat processing capacity and $1.3 million was spent by the government for feed intake monitoring equipment at the new feedlot research barn in Elora, which is now open.

Lipsett also gave an overview of the BFO’s marketing strategies, including running advertising spots during popular podcasts.

Earlier this year, a global scientific body declared Canada at ‘negligible’ risk for bovine spongiform encephalopathy 18 years after the discovery of mad cow disease on an Alberta Ranch in 2003 led to Canadian cattle being classed as at “controlled” risk for the disease.

Lipsett called the declaration a “silver lining” in 2021.

Beef Day on Wednesday was the first commodity day at the 56th annual Grey Bruce Farmers’Week, which was once again forced to go fully virtual because of the pandemic. The conference continues on Thursday with Dairy Day.

Wednesday’s session also included a panel discussion on calving tips and a presentation entitled Five Ways to Reduce Feed Costs in the Cow-Calf Sector presented by Dr. Katie Wood.

What Are Your Numbers Telling You? Was presented in the afternoon by Maggie Van Camp, national agricultural practice development leader in Guelph for BDO Canada LLP; Brandee Ceaser-MacDonald, a partner, CPA, CA, at the Wiarton BDO; and Susan Cruickshank, a senior manager, Tax, CPA, CGA, at the Kincardine BDO.

Those who purchased access to the live-streamed conference were also able to view several “on-demand” options including a review of the beef industry in Grey-Bruce and a presentation called “Why Are Cattle Itching?” By Dr. Denis Nagle.

After Dairy Day on Thursday, farmers’ week continues with Goat Day on Friday, Sheep Day on Saturday, Ecological Day on Jan. 10 and Crops Day on Jan. 11.

The conference kicked off on Tuesday with “Check Your Tech Tuesday” including a presentation of the future of agriculture in Canada by Senator Rob Black (Ontario), Marty Seymour, director of industry relations at FCC. and facilitated by Andrew Campbell of Fresh Air Media.

Ticket information and full details on the speakers participating and the schedule is available at gbfw.ca

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