The pandemic brought a ray of hope for Canadian bison producers

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There has never been more fresh or frozen Canadian bison meat available in supermarkets.

It is a ray of hope that has occurred because of the chaos caused by COVID-19.

“These people who are involved with federally inspected factories and slaughterhouses in the United States and who bring the product here, they’ve been able to identify opportunities in the market,” said Terry Kremeniuk, Executive Director from the Canadian Bison Association.

“Part of it was driven by the start of the pandemic – when you saw empty shelves. The bison was part of the meat rack and there was also none left.

“People took the opportunity to try it, and they were very encouraged by what they got to taste. “

Producers who sell bison at farmers’ markets and on the farm have also seen their businesses grow dramatically, Kremeniuk said.

The onset of the pandemic has hit bison meat exports to Europe hard, with prices falling dramatically. This made a lot of people look for new markets “so they went to the local market”.

“You can now get fresh bison at Costco, Sobeys, IGA, Safeway and Co-op stores,” he said. “Raising awareness of the fact that there are bison has been helpful.

“As the restaurant business opens up, you’re going to see more and more of this market serving bison, I guess. It is a combination of a number of things that will increase the demand for products.

Prices have been relatively stable and are roughly the same as a year ago.

Like the cattle industry, bison producers were affected by the drought, but the rains in August and September provided some relief. These bison come from Staden Farms near Mannville.

Photo:
Staden Farms

However, federal slaughterings increased 16 percent at federal factories, and there was an increase of nearly 20 percent at provincial factories, Kremeniuk said.

“The massacre is happening. The challenge is that in some cases, in the Canadian market, you can’t get them slaughtered without having programmed them. Sometimes the timing of the slaughter is not compatible with the market.

The United States is a major buyer of Canadian bison, but this market was fairly stable last year, and exports have increased eight percent since 2020.

At the start of the pandemic, the European bison market was hit due to the cost of transportation and due to closures in the restaurant business.

“Now that the market is opening up a bit, that’s a positive sign,” Kremeniuk said.

Bison exports to the European market have never ceased, and as the meat is shipped by air, shipments have not been disrupted as they have been to agricultural markets dependent on ocean freight containers (which are in chronic shortage).

“The volumes went down drastically, but they still wanted to keep this market open,” he said. “Once you close a market, it costs a lot of money to get people back into the market. Sales seem to be increasing.

Things got so much better that the Canadian Bison Association sent marketing reps to Anuga, an international food fair in Cologne, Germany, this month.

But while commercialization has brought good news, production, like other livestock sectors, has been hit hard by the drought. Given that the fall season for the bison calf market begins a little later than that for the beef industry, it is not yet clear exactly how much the downsizing will occur.

“With the consequences of the drought and the resulting higher feed costs, it is expected that there will be downward pressure on calf prices,” Kremeniuk said. “I expect there will be some demand in the Canadian market, as well as the US market for calves, but the cost of the feed is going to discourage people from getting higher prices.”

As the sector will adapt, he added.

“We have heard people say that the herd of cattle is going to decrease because of the lack of feed and so on. Said Kremeniuk. “It’s going to happen in the cattle industry, it’s going to happen in the bison industry.

“The difference between the beef industry and the bison industry is that there is more liquidity in the beef industry. There is always a home for animals that people want to kill. This is not necessarily the case for the bison industry.

South of the border, more cull bison are marketed, limiting demand from American buyers.

“The market will have to adapt. The supply chain will be different at the end of the year compared to last year and this is largely due to the drought. “

The rains in August and September were well received by bison producers and helped extend their grazing season, Kremeniuk said.

“When you look at the consequences of COVID-19 and the changes in the market and the adjustments in the supply chain, and what do you have, as it relates to the month of June of this year, there was a little optimism, “he said.

“The drought has dampened optimism. Having said that, the bison industry has a bright future. People who have overcome the obstacles they have faced will be rewarded for their risk and tenacity.


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