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Ranchers unsure about future of industry as many make less than minimum wage

Reference: CTV News

A growing trend of ranchers deciding to leave the industry as the cost of doing business continues to surge has some calling for industry change and awareness of what farmers go through to get meat to market.

Sean McGrath, a fifth-generation rancher near Lloydminster, told CTV News Edmonton that consecutive bad weather seasons and the rising cost of doing business drive many families from the industry.

Farms in southern Alberta have been dealing with three years worth of weather-related complications, McGrath added, with last year's drought impacting his northern Alberta ranchlands.

In addition, the rising cost of feed supplies and fuel is forcing some farmers to reduce their herd sizes, McGrath said.

"It's been a squeeze for everyone," McGrath said, who also is a ranching consultant.

A presentation he recently saw from the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef showed the average return for a 200-cow herd is now just under $18,000.

"That is the average," McGrath said. "So there are operations that do much better and operations that do much worse. It's still a concerning number."

McGrath says some ranchers can have a $2 to $5 million investment tied into their farm, depending on its size.

"You start to think about if you make $15 an hour working after school at Tim Horton's, you would gross that $18,000 in a year," he added.

"Depending on family and debt load and ties to the land and personal goals and all those types of things, I don't know what the industry is going to look like in the next 20 years."

'A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE CHOOSING TO EXIT'

According to Statistics Canada, cattle herds in the country fell to the lowest recorded levels since July. 1, 1988.

Since 2005, cattle inventories have declined year-over-year while Canadian hog and sheep generally increased.

As of this July 1, Canadian farmers held 12.3 million cattle and calves, a 2.8 per cent decline from last year — the most significant year-over-year decrease since summer 2015.

The Canadian beef cow inventory has declined for three consecutive years, with beef heifers for breeding experiencing a 7.4 per cent decline in 2022 compared to last year.

While Alberta records the largest cattle inventories, Stats Canada data indicates, western Canadian provinces saw the largest declines.

Manitoba saw a minus 6.9 per cent herd reduction, with Saskatchewan and Alberta reporting minus 4.2 per cent and two per cent reductions, respectively.

The number of cattle farms have also declined since 2004, with the national statistics agency attributing it to "business consolidations."

"It's kind of to a point where you either need to decide you are going to put some of your own money into the business, so an off-farm job, or you are going to exit, or you are going to adapt your business to be profitable," McGrath said.

"A lot of people are choosing to exit," he added... Read More