Soaring feed costs are pushing cattle farmers to the brink, and consumers will likely pay more for their meat, producers say.
Booming prices for wheat are boosting the fortunes of grain producers, but are turning cattle production — which has faced one crisis after another, from mad cow disease to the high Canadian dollar — into more of a headache than ever.
"Cattle producers are facing an enormous — unprecedented actually — amount of pressures," said Theresa Keddy, communications director of the Calgary-based Canadian Cattlemen's Association.
"It is very, very tough. There are some people who are kind of at the ends of their ropes now. We are losing, unfortunately, a lot of producers," she said.
"They just can't afford to keep going."
Wheat prices have climbed sharply over the last month, leading to spiking prices for bread and many other baked products.
High feed prices are a problem across the country, from the concentrated feedlots in Alberta to hundreds of smaller farms, like the one Bob Murphy has operated for four decades in the small eastern Newfoundland town of Brigus.
"When the Canadian dollar went from — I don't know what it was — 90 cents to $1.10, the price of cattle dropped 20 cents a pound, in a matter of six weeks," Murphy said.
"So, you know, that just … well, it ruined my year."
Murphy said the feed — which farmers used to fatten up their animals before slaughter — is now killing them.
"I know a guy who [has] a thousand head on feed in P.E.I.," Murphy said. "So, just figure it out, how much they're losing. If they're losing $200 or $300 a head, how long can you stay in business doing that?"
Consumers headed for price rise in meat aisle
Murphy said it is only a matter of time before consumers face higher prices in the meat aisle.
Peter Belbin, who buys fresh meat regularly for his steakhouse restaurant in downtown St. John's, told CBC News Tuesday his suppliers have told him that no immediate prices changes are imminent. However, Belbin said the expectation in the industry is that mean costs will inevitably go up.
Meanwhile, the Cattlemen's Keddy said a federal government move on Monday to help livestock producers access emergency aid will help, but only so far.
"They've heard us to a small extent. [But] a lot of producers [are] angry, they're upset, they want help, and they don't feel like they're getting it," Keddy said.
"So, there are some frustrations."