MCEC administers an investment fund that is fed by a refundable $2 per head levy on every head of cattle sold in the province. That money is then matched by the province turning every $2 into $4. MCEC’s mandate is to use that fund to invest in projects to strengthen the Manitoba beef industry, with a special focus on bringing federally-inspected beef slaughter and processing capacity back to the province.
Fully 85 per cent, or 7,400 out of 8,700, of Manitoba’s cattle farms decided on their own against applying for a refund in 2010, according to data from MCEC.
“We talk to producers all the time and they tell us that they know the risk to our industry if we don’t get new federally-inspected beef plant capacity back in the province,” said Gaylene Dutchyshen, vice-chair of MCEC. “It’s a positive sign that so many cattle producers are voting with their wallets on this very important issue.”
Another significant reason for cattle producers to support MCEC’s initiative is that they know having a local beef plant will mean more profitability and sustainability for individual farms and the whole sector. Manitoba beef producers earn substantially less for their livestock than their Alberta counterparts. In the first 10 months of 2011, the difference was as high as $130 per fed steer (avg weight 1,300 lbs).
“When you’re looking at trading a $2 levy for the chance to earn up to $130, the math is pretty simple,” said Dutchyshen. “We pay high prices for transportation and other costs to get our animals across the country or into the US. It makes perfect sense for producers here to continue to pull together towards building a beef plant here at home.”
MCEC was born in the wake of the 2003 BSE crisis that closed the US border to Canadian beef exports. While Alberta and Ontario producers still had access to local slaughter facilities, Manitoba producers were faced with surging herds and plummeting prices.