Farmers say beef industry in peril

Darrell Cole
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AMHERST - The future of the beef industry in Nova Scotia could be at stake when farmers gather in Truro later this week for discussions on where their beleagured industry is going.

"There are a few of us on the board that have become concerned about where we stand as an industry on the short term. We have come to the point where we're not willing to participate in a long-term strategy unless they look at the short term," Collingwood beef farmer and Nova Scotia Cattle Producers Association director Kurt Sherman said.
"We've worked on this plan for two years and every step of the way we've said there's no reason to build this nice bridge in the middle if you don't have a ramp leading up to it."
The meeting, set for Truro's Holiday Inn on Friday, will discuss plans for the industry's continued survival as well as recovery and areas of potential growth. Sherman said farmers are all too aware of the continued pressures they face.
He's afraid the beef industry could follow the Nova Scotia hog industry into extinction. The same is true for the dairy industry that he says is down to about 230 producers from more than 900 just a decade ago.
While the provincial government is no longer interested in short-term help, opting to develop a long-range plan, Sherman is concerned there might not be any farmers left in the long term unless there's some immediate assistance.
One of the things the province could do immediately, he added, is live up to the commitment made by the previous Tory government just before the provincial election was called in the spring. Though it promised to live up to the Tories' pre-election commitment, the new government has balked saying the promise was not a budgetary commitment.
Beef farmers have faced continued crisis for more than a decade, brought to a head by the BSE crisis six years ago and the temporary closure of the U.S. market. Increased competition from foreign producers with cheaper prices, coupled with rising feed, fuel and insurance costs have left many farmers on the edge.
Sherman has put half of his land up for sale and is wondering how much longer he'll be able to hold on.
"It's the worst it has ever been," he said. "The price for fat cattle on the Island last week was $1.26 a pound. That's back to what it was in 2004. In the meantime, fuel has gone up, the price of feed has increased and so has the cost of fertilizer."
Sherman is aware the criticisms being levelled toward farmers is frustrating because people don't understand what they are going through.
"We are trying to be more efficient and we are looking for more ways to run our businesses in a leaner fashion, but we're just being strangled at every step of the way," he said. "We're getting $1.26 for finished cattle, but consumers are not getting any deal for steak at the store."

Organizations: Nova Scotia Cattle Producers Association, Holiday Inn, Tory

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Truro, AMHERST U.S.

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Recent comments

  • peter
    February 24, 2010 - 23:46

    The reason we can't get local beef for our plates is because over the years the packing plants that were here have been bought up by the big companies and have been closed down, moving their killing operations to quebec, Ontario and west. Our producers are at a disadvantage as they have to send their beef to these locations, costing them more money for transportation of the animals. There used to be lots of slaughtering operations in the maritimes 20 or 30 years ago and now it has all gone except Larsen's in the valley, which just does pork, a beef killing operation in Borden PEI which is always in financial trouble, and the only thing left after these if a few poultry processing operations in the valley of NS and in northern NB, which are not on strong footing. We have lost our food security in the maritimes not only in livestock but also in produce. So very sad that we have not had the political will to protect these industries.

  • Mark
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    Decades of poor agricultural policy has failed our farm families. These policies have placed all the burden on farmers to cut costs, learn new production methods, diversify, add value to their products, and monitor environmental impacts -- all worthy things.

    But the crisis isnt about our farmers not being good enough at what they do; its about fair pricing and access to markets. We are being undermined by cheap unfair imports, concentration of ownership, and lack of product support.

    We need to re-claim our domestic markets (produce local, buy local!) to get back to being able to feed ourselves and make honest livings.

    Keep fightin' Kurt!

  • Albert
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    I have no idea what the answer is but the numbers are absolutely shocking. Our dairy farmers are 1/4 of what they were just 10 years ago. Why can't we be eating the beef produced in our fair province and why such price differences in beef produced thousands of miles away? Once the industry is gone they'll be gone for good, that's a given. A very sad situation for all.

  • Realistic
    February 24, 2010 - 23:45

    This is quite sad indeed. The sadder part is it is not just the beef farmers.

    It's a messed up world we're in.