Beef is out; wheat is in: farmers
Financially beleaguered cattle producers in Manitoba are selling off their herds and switching to wheat, capitalizing on soaring grain prices.
Martin Unrau, president of the Manitoba Cattle Producers Association, is just one of hundreds of ranchers expected to sell off their animals this year and put their fields to work raising grain.
"Here we are growing grain for sale again, which is kind of hard to believe, I guess. But we're doing it," said Unrau, who has made his living raising cattle for more than 40 years.
"We've torn up some hay land and we're going to put in about 400 acres of salable grain this year, something we haven't done for about 10 or 11 years," he told CBC News.
Unrau's operation near MacGregor, Man., has been losing money — a common affliction in the industry, which has been struggling with soaring feed costs, low livestock prices and a high Canadian dollar.
He expects the switch to earn him about $80,000 in profits this year.
"We could have some net incomes of close to $200 an acre at the end of the day [with wheat]," he said. "When you're looking at that versus the cow-calf operation and the hay that I used to grow to supply the cows from that same amount of land, we were in a negative position. So that's the difference."
He expects at least 1,000 other cattle producers in the province will also sell of at least some of their herd in favour of planting wheat or barley, crops that are now considered money-makers for the first time in three decades.
At $9 per bushel, the Canadian Wheat Board also expects to see a lot more wheat sprouting across the Prairies this year — up to 81,000 hectares in Manitoba alone.
Spokesman Bruce Burnett expects farmers to plant every available acre, even on pasture land that will harvest a lower yield.
"We do expect some marginal land that was put into pasture land or other uses over the past 10 or 15 years [is] likely going to come back into production," he said. "Right now, we're saying that some of this land is needed for production, so it is worth it."
Wheat board officials expect grain prices to remain high over the next few years, leading even more cattle producers to make the switch.