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News Roundup – for Nov. 8, 2010

TRADE

COOL IMPACTS

Market analyst Kevin Grier doesn’t buy the U. S. argument that its mandatory country-of-origin labelling legislation (COOL) has not affected Canadian livestock markets, and he has some interesting numbers to back up the argument.

In the October 15 issue of theCanadian Cattle Buyerpublished by the Guelph-based George Morris Centre, Grier points to the August export figures recently released by Statistics Canada.

Exports of feeder cattle exports are down 23 per cent from 2009 and 60 per cent compared to 2008. Not all of this can be blamed on COOL. Declining inventories and local market conditions are also at work. This year it is likely that excellent grass conditions have kept cattle out of U.S. feedyards and Alberta ones as well, if the light placements in Alberta feedlots this spring and summer are any indication.

“It is easy to place much of the blame on COOL given where the declines in shipments have occurred,” stated Grier. “Movement of Canadian feeder cattle into Nebraska has declined by a factor of four times since 2008. The decline in 2010 has been 50 per cent compared to the first eight months of 2009. Movement into Iowa has also been sharply lower. Meanwhile shipments to Washington and Colorado have been relatively unaffected. That suggests that regions in the Northwest that depend more on Canadian fed and feeder cattle have had to adapt to COOL. Regions in the High Plains or Midwest that are not so dependent have chosen to opt out of the Canadian market. Either way it hurts demand and pricing for Canadian feeders and producers.”

Fed cattle exports to the U.S., on the other hand, are up by 28 per cent in 2010 compared to 2009 and are roughly similar to 2008. While COOL has not had such a severe effect on volumes with fed cattle as with the feeders, Grier again sees its influence in the pattern of where these cattle end up.

“The argument is the same as for feeder cattle,” he said. “Movement into Washington State has been increasing while movement to Utah has been variable but no downtrend can be seen. These states have packing plants that consider southern Alberta as part of their procurement territory. Washington Beef, Tyson and JBS require Alberta cattle either regularly or periodically.

“Ontario is also relatively important to JBS in Pennsylvania. As a result these companies have adopted their logistics and marketings to account for COOL. Nebraska, on the other hand does not depend on Canadian cattle and therefore it will not adapt for COOL. Its shipments from Canada have declined significantly since 2007.”

Cow exports are less affected by COOL given that much of the product is for manufacturing, ground beef or lower-end food service. As a result there has been little change in the destination states for non-fed beef exports since COOL came into force. To date in 2010, for example, cow exports are running 44 per cent to Minnesota, 22 per cent to Washington, 11 per cent to Pennsylvania, 10 per cent to Wisconsin and 13 per cent to a smattering of plants in other states.

MANAGEMENT

MUD AND MANURE EVERYWHERE

With rainfalls exceeding 200 per cent of normal is some parts of Saskatchewan regional livestock specialist Naomi Paley and engineer Brian Campbell were kept busy this fall offering advice on getting the manure out of some soupy pens in their area of the province.

Often fields and pastures were so wet it was impossible to spread manure. That’s assuming producers even got the manure picked up in the first place. Many pens were so sloppy they couldn’t be cleaned. Facing these conditions and needing to come up with some ideas to get the pens ready for winter Paley and Campbell made the following suggestions:

If the manure simply cannot be removed from the pens, the first option is look for a drier alternative location where the cattle can be housed. Cattle wintered on clean land free of mud and tag will be healthier, have better feed effi-ciency and healthier calves as opposed to those struggling with the mud.

Alternative pens can be set up on stubble fields, summerfallow, pasture or hayland, wherever it is dry but electric fences need to be set up before winter closes in. Portable windbreaks can serve if there are no trees or brush around the emergency pens.

To those who decide to stay with the existing pens, their advice is prepare to provide plenty of bedding throughout the winter to offset the problems associated with last year’s manure pack. Bedding also acts as a sponge, preventing runoff from the pens. And watch for signs of undue stress on the cattle, particularly in the fall and early spring.

If you can get at the pens with a pay loader or small bulldozer, scrape and pile the manure within the pen or close by for spreading at a later time, likely next year.

Spreading manure on frozen or snow-covered ground is not a recommended practice for handling manure, however it is an option under exceptional circumstances. In Saskatchewan Paley and Campbell advise anyone leaning toward winter spreading to notify their rural municipality and local ministry of agriculture office.

LEGAL

CALLS FOR BSE SETTLEMENT REACH COMMONS

Cattle producers’ calls for the federal government to negotiate an out-of-court settlement to class action suits filed over the arrival of BSE in the Canadian herd made it to the House of Commons last month.

Identical petitions from groups of cattle producers were presented by NDP agriculture critic and B. C. MP Alex Atamanenko, and by southern Ontario MP and rancher Larry Miller, who chairs both the Commons standing committee on agriculture and the Conservatives’ rural caucus.

Atamanenko presented petition papers signed by a “couple of hundred people from Manitoba,” while Miller presented on behalf of 26 residents of his Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound constituency.

“The petition mentions that there was a class action on behalf of cattle producers of Canada lodged in April 2005 claiming that negligence on the part of Agriculture Canada allowed BSE from imported British cattle to infect Canadian cattle,” Atamanenko said in the Commons. “This class action has now been certified and is proceeding to trial.”

Miller’s and Atamanenko’s presentations were among a list of petitions presented during the routine proceedings section of the day’s business, and were not debated in the Commons.

The petitions were co-ordinated by a group of Canadian ranchers following meetings in recent months with Cameron Pallett, the Toronto lawyer spearheading the class actions. They call on the government to name retired Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci as a mediator to facilitate settlement between the Government of Canada and the cattle farmers.

“The government of Canada settled the hepatitis class actions. The government of Canada settled the residential schools class actions,” the petition papers note. “The cattle farmers of Canada need help now. The BSE class action represents the interests of 135,000 hardworking Canadian farm families.”

Petition organizers have also sent letters to all members of Parliament urging support for a settlement. “The BSE class action has been in progress since 2005, and has passed all the legal criteria to be a true national class action suit. The next time it goes before a judge it is to be decided,” the letters noted.

“We have heard that if it does go to court, that it could be 10 years before a final judgment is reached. We do not have 10 years,” the letters state. “Our farm income programs have ceased to work for us. Our equity is a fraction of what it was, and many producers are just waiting for those first good prices in order to salvage some equity and get out. When people get out of the cattle business, they do not come back.”

In the past lawyer Pallett has said he didn’t see the trial getting underway for another four years at best, owing to the “procedural song-and-dance” that accompanies such cases.

Pallett represents Niagara Falls-area cattle producer Bill Sauer, the representative plaintiff for a “class” that includes all Canadian cattle producers outside Quebec. In that province, a related and certified class action suit by producer Donald Berneche continues.

The two suits claim negligence within the government led directly to the BSE-related closure of the U. S. border and other foreign ports. The lawsuits’ allegations against the government and individual federal bureaucrats have not yet been proven in court.

Sauer’s suit, as originally filed in April 2005, had claimed $100,000 for every member of the “class” in “general damages… for pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life” as well as aggravated damages of $100,000 per class member plus punitive damages of $100 million from the suit’s “corporate defendants.”

If the government is willing to settle, Pallett said the dispute could be resolved in more favorable economic terms since the cattle producers would get compensation without facing years of litigation.

FARM SAFETY

STAY SAFE ON THAT ATV

While ATVs have become an indispensable tool around many cattle operations the Alberta government issued its annual warning last month to show these vehicles the respect they deserve.

“Between 2002 and 2009, 10 per cent of deaths associated with ATVs in Alberta were directly related to farming activities,” says Kathy Belton, associate director of the Alberta Centre for Injury Control &Research. “These deaths occurred while performing ordinary tasks such as herding livestock, towing or hauling goods and checking fences.”

“Whether an ATV is used for work or play everyone must remember these are powerful and heavy machines,” says Laura Nelson, executive director of the Alberta Farm Safety Centre. “ATVs can travel as fast as a truck, without the protection of a truck. You don’t have anything like a seatbelt, airbag or cab to protect you. Any loss of control can lead to injuries and lost productivity on the farm. And no one wants to live with the on-going ache of regret after a death.”

Most fatalities from ATV crashes are the result of head injury. Whether you’re making a quick trip to the barn or spending an afternoon on trails, it is recommend that you wear an approved helmet with face and eye protection.

Safety experts also recommend that riders refuse to carry passengers on ATVs built for one person. A passenger on these machines reduces the driver’s ability to stop, turn or shift their weight and makes the ATV unbalanced.

The Alberta Off-Highway Vehicle Association and the Alberta Safety Council offer hands-on training to provide riders with the skills needed to operate these machines safely.

When it comes to children, the evidence is clear: they do not have what it takes to ride an ATV safely. They lack the strength, control, coordination and judgment of adults, which ultimately translates to a higher risk of injury and death.

“Kids are safest if they don’t ride ATVs of any size. But if kids under 16 are going to ride ATVs, they should only be riding machines made for their age, weight and maturity,” says Belton. “We urge parents to follow manufacturers’ recommendations regarding the proper size machine for their children.”

Other information on ATV safety is available from the North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks (www.nagcat.org/nagcat/) and the Alberta Centre for Injury Control &Research website atwww.acicr.ca or by calling 780-492-6019.

POLICY

DROUGHT HELP

In a year when so many people across the country were dealing with excess rainfall the Government of Canada reminds us that others were hit equally hard by drought.

Late last month the government once again offered tax deferrals to drought afflicted farms in select municipalities in British Columbia and Alberta for the 2010 tax year.

The tax deferral allows eligible producers in designated areas to defer income tax on the sale of breeding livestock for one year to help replenish breeding stock in the following year. Proceeds from deferred sales are included as income in the next tax year, when they may be at least partially offset by the cost of reacquiring breeding animals. In the case of consecutive years of designation, producers may defer sales income to the first year in which the area is no longer designated.

To defer income, the breeding herd must have been reduced by at least 15 per cent. Thirty per cent of income from net sales can be deferred if the breeding herd has been reduced by at least 15 per cent. In cases where the herd has been reduced by more than 30 per cent, 90 per cent of income from net sales can be deferred.

Eligible producers will be able to request this deferral when filing their 2010 income tax returns.

Preliminary designation has been established based on spring moisture and summer rainfall, supplemented with estimates of forage yield. Final decisions and any further adjustments will be made when all forage yield information is available, usually in December.

The announcement covers the counties of Clear Hills, Northern Lights, Grand Prairie No. 1, Northern Sunrise, Saddle Hills, Woodlands, Yellowhead, Improvement District No. 12 and the municipal districts of Big Lakes, Fairview No. 136, Greenview No. 16, Peace No. 135, Smoky River No. 130, Spirit River No. 133 in Northern Alberta.

In B.C. deferrals have been granted in census subdivision Bulkley-Nechako B, C, D, E and F; Cariboo A, B, C, D, E, F, I, J, K; Fraser-Fort George A, C, D, E, F, G, H and Peace River B, C, D, E.

CORRECTION

On page 40 of our first October issue we published a picture of the world’s smallest cow, Swallow. Our caption said the bull beside her for comparison was an Angus animal. It was in fact a Shorthorn bull.

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