The general manager of Manitoba Beef Producers (MBP) says hardship stemming from back-to-back years of dry weather is being compounded by economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It’s been a challenging time for many (producers)," Carson Callum said last week in a phone interview following the first of three virtual meetings for producers in District 4, which encompasses the Southeast.
Additional meetings take place Oct. 29 and Nov. 5 beginning at 6:30 p.m. Farmers can participate online or listen in by phone. Elections will be held this year in odd-numbered districts.
Callum said the meetings focus on drought, changes to Crown land use, and COVID-19’s effects on the beef sector. Producers will also have a chance to offer their thoughts.
"The uncertainty is really the main piece that we’re hearing from folks," Callum said.
"People (are) worried what COVID is going to do to the calf market when the fall run really gets heated up here. I think that’s led to a lot of stress and frustration."
Callum said producers were already contending with a drought-induced lack of feed availability before the pandemic arrived in Manitoba.
MBP had also been working with the provincial government, which proposed changes to the renewal process for legacy forage leases and renewable Crown land permits.
Callum said MBP is concerned by the size of the proposed rental rate increase and the speed at which it’s being implemented. Callum wants the government to phase in the rental rate increase over five years.
He renewed that call once the pandemic hit and producers began facing animal backlogs caused reductions and closures at slaughter plants. Feed costs increased and market prices fluctuated.
"A lot of guys had to hold on to some of their fed animals longer than they would have liked to," Callum said.
To address the situation, Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and Manitoba Agriculture Minister Blaine Pedersen launched a $2.5-million finished cattle feed assistance program on Oct. 15.
Owners of finished cattle will receive $1.20 per day per animal to help offset costs incurred between Apr. 15 and Aug. 31 while feeding cattle beyond their expected market date.
Ottawa is providing the funding through a disaster relief umbrella program, but the Manitoba government will administer it. The deadline to apply is Dec. 1.
"I think it’ll help," Callum said. "We weren’t consulted in some of the eligibility details of the program, but it’s good to see that the federal government made this announcement."
On Oct. 16, Pedersen also unveiled a one-time 20 percent rent credit for agricultural Crown land leaseholders. But eligibility is limited to producers who live in the 18 Manitoba municipalities that declared a local state of agricultural emergency in 2019 due to dry conditions.
According to the province, on average each client will receive about $430 in rent credits, which will be applied against their 2021 Crown lands rental rate.
"It’ll help some producers, but not all," Callum said.
MLA Diljeet Brar, the Opposition NDP’s agriculture critic, issued a statement saying the rent credit falls short of the cost of the planned Crown land rent increases.
Pedersen also announced improvements to several Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation programs.
Callum called the changes "positive" but said producers continue to need a strong suite of business risk management programs that are practical and navigable.
"That’s become even more important with the impacts of COVID."
One such provincial program, AgriStability, has some equity gaps between beef and other commodities, Callum said.
Manitoba Beef Producers represents about 6,300 producers province-wide.