Tough to swallow: Beef industry in a downturn

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Bonnie Stevenson

The Independent

The cattlemen of Lambton County are facing challenging times.

That from Ralph Eyre, president of the Lambton County Cattlemen’s Association, who says the present market for beef is not good.

“Right now, we’re experiencing a real downturn. At the moment, it’s hard to see a bright light (at the end of the tunnel),” Erye told The Independent at the annual Lambton County Cattlemen’s Beef Barbecue in Alvinston.

This discouraging trend has been in progress for some months now, according to Eyre.

“In late 2015, the market started to drop. Beef farmers who bought cattle last year to put in their feed lot are losing money now; they’re not getting back what they put into it.”

A fall off in consumer demand is part of the force that is driving the downturn and Eyre says the high price of beef likely aggravated the situation.

“Prices got so high (the consumer backed off)… but prices to producers had increased,” he said.

Eyre, who runs a beef operation near Brigden, admits fluctuations in market activity are not unknown to beef producers, but the latest downward trend is unsettling.

“The industry has its ups and downs, and the downs are hard to take,” he says, estimating the current loss to producers ranges between $300 to $500 per head.

“Prices for producers have been falling for about 10 months, but it’s just the last couple of weeks that prices (in the stores) have been starting to come down. Nobody expected it to go this low.”

However, the resilience of beef producers is a trait Eyre cites as reason for optimism. He points to the catastrophic BSE (“mad cow”) virus as one of the challenges that truly tested them to the limit.

“They survived that tragedy and it felt good to get good times like 2014/2015.”

That determination is continuing during this latest down turn. “Beef farmers are pretty unique – they’re used to weathering these storms,” he says.

“We manage to pull through the tough times and wait until the market goes up. The plus is that, when feed lots buy cattle this fall, they’ll be able to buy at reduced prices.”

On Aug. 3, the community turned out in force to support the Lambton Cattlemen’s Association barbecue fundraiser in Alvinston. Looking at the crowd that assembled for the event at the Brooke-Alvinston-Inwood Community Centre, Eyre says the cattlemen were grateful for the community turnout.

“This barbecue is our main fundraiser for the year and we appreciate everyone at this barbecue,” he said. “It means a lot to the Lambton cattlemen.”

All profits from the event remain in the community to support 4-H programs as well as support local soup kitchens and rural food banks.

Each year, the cattlemen also donate beef to local rural food banks for distribution to families in need.

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