Saskatchewan cattlemen want more transparency on who benefits from beef sales.

They say meatpackers and retailers are limiting supply to drive up prices.

“We know what the retail prices are and we know what our farm gate prices are,” said Garner Deobald, who farms near Hodgeville, Saskatchewan. “There’s a lot of money that stays in the supply chain, but doesn’t come back to base.”

Deobald is also president of the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association (SSGA), a beef industry lobby organization.

The association wants the federal and provincial governments to follow the money and investigate.

“Let’s see if we can identify where the profits are being made, and if there’s a way or a strategy we can find to share that a little more evenly.”

From veal to consumer

Kathy Larson said Monday that the package of sirloin steaks in her fridge cost about $12 a pound, or about $9 a steak.

“A lot of times when you see this at the grocery store, you think, well, cow-calf farmers, cattle farmers, they must be so rich.”

But Larson said that assumption is incorrect.

The beef supply chain begins with cattle producers and newborn calves, explained Larson, a research associate in the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and a former beef economist. at the Western Beef Development Center.

Producers raise spring-born calves until they are weaned from their mothers and weigh about 550 pounds, Larson said. Then the animals are often sold at a benchmark lot for “usually about two dollars a pound”.

When the cattle reach around 1,000 pounds, they are sold to a feedlot – their final home.

Larson said Alberta and Saskatchewan have about 170 feedlots combined, which fatten cows up to 1,400 pounds before sending them to slaughter.

She said feedlots currently sell the animals to facilities run by giants Cargill and JBS for around $1.75 a pound. She noted that she had seen ground beef at the store on Sunday for $6.40 a pound.

The majority of beef is processed in federally inspected plants to meet export requirements. She said Cargill and JBS account for about 65% of all federally inspected Canadian slaughter capacity.

“They control a lot. We go from 12,000 cow-calves [operations] to less than 200 feedlots and then two major packers controlling nearly two-thirds of federally inspected slaughter,” she said.

She said the demand for transparency on where the retail dollar is going makes sense. She noted that there are similar issues in the United States.

The Associated Press reported last week that Sysco, a huge food retailer, joined several other companies in accusing the country’s four largest meat processors, including Cargill and JBS, of working together to inflate beef prices.

Access to endangered local beef

According to the SSGA, packers and retailers are limiting supply to drive up prices because “packers and retailers know there is no one else to take their place or make a profit.”

“Industry members are questioning the packers’ strategy, which appears to be limiting the amount of product available at the retail level – keeping canned beef prices high while allowing the supply of fed cattle to grow in the countryside, which keeps livestock prices low,” the SSGA said. in its request for investigation.

Cargill declined to comment, directing CBC to the Canadian Meat Council – which did not respond to request for comment. CBC has not received a response from JBS.

The Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association says packers and retailers are seeing strong profits as consumers pay high prices for beef, but cattle producers don’t see high prices at their end of the chain. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Deobald said producers are frustrated that consumers are paying more while producers, who sell the cattle that will eventually become beef, risk going out of business.

He said that frustration is amplified at a time when producers are already grappling with the harsh impact of drought, “astronomical” feed costs and rising fuel and fertilizer costs. People have to reduce or sell herds, convert grasslands to cultivated crops, and sell land.

Deobald said there was only so much people could take before giving up, saying “enough is enough”.

“We love what we do, we’re willing to work long hours, but if there’s no reward at the end and you lose money at the end, it just can’t go on. .”

Canadians risk losing access to beef raised in Saskatchewan if producers continue to experience losses, Deobald said.

In a written statement, a spokesperson for the provincial Department of Agriculture said “we also share the industry’s concerns regarding pricing; however, it would be preferable if the SSGA discusses its request for an investigation with the Competition Bureau Canada”.

Deobald said the SSGA will consider seeking action through Canada’s Competition Bureau, which is investigating the allegations. price-fixing and other anti-competitive behaviorif their calls to action go unanswered.

A spokesperson for Canada’s Competition Bureau said it could not comment on specific market behavior, but encouraged anyone who thinks they have evidence of price-fixing to report it.