Alberta beef sets records despite deadly outbreaks

By Catherine Griwkowsky September 29, 2020

Alberta’s agricultural sector is bucking downward trends with crop yields, livestock sales and food processing all on track to break records this year. 
“From our world-famous Alberta beef to high-quality hard red spring wheat, Alberta’s agriculture sector is an economic highlight during these tough times,” Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen said in a news release.
Cattle markets ground to a halt this spring after large Covid outbreaks at the Cargill meat-processing plant in High River and the JBS Canada meat-processing facility in Brooks. 
The plants were shut down for weeks after the disease spread to hundreds of workers and their families, leading to three deaths. 
The high-profile shutdowns led to government aid for the sector.  
In March, Ottawa announced an additional $5 billion in lending capacity to Farm Credit Canada to aid in the cash crunch for the agricultural sector. 
That was followed up in May with $225 million in joint federal-provincial agricultural aid, with $75 million dedicated to subsidizing the cost of feeding backed-up livestock in the beef and hog sector. 
Despite concerns from the National Cattle Feeders’ Association that the money would not be enough, the livestock industry cleared the backlog and has turned a record profit.
Livestock sales are on pace to hit $6.9 billion in Alberta by the end of the year.
“We continue to see stable cattle markets following the disruption earlier this year due to COVID-19, and hope to see prices hold steady through the fall,” said Alberta Beef Producers chair Kelly Smith-Fraser. “Alberta’s processing sector continues to see consistent flow of production and strong capacity, due in large part to the hard-working plant employees.”
However, Covid outbreaks in meat-processing facilities are still not over. As of Friday, there were active outbreaks at Harmony Beef in Calgary and the Lilydale chicken-processing plant in Calgary.
Agriculture part of UCP recovery strategy
Other crops have also had a record year. Harvests were seven per cent higher than typical (except in northern Alberta, where farmers were hit with cool, wet weather). 
The UCP says it is honing in on growth strategies for the agricultural and agri-food sectors as part of its economic recovery plan via “aggressive investment attraction initiatives.”
That includes adding “agriculture-specific staff” to its foreign investment offices with the goal of ramping up the province’s agri-food exports globally. Dreeshen said agriculture staff are already in place in the province’s Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing and New Delhi offices.