Proposal to grow the local industry will keep cash in BC
by TOM WALKER
WESTWOLD – Townhall meetings as the new year gets underway will determine whether or not a beef packing plant proposed for Prince George will go ahead. If it does, it will mean changes in how the BC industry finishes cattle.
Someone intimately familiar with what that could mean is BC Association of Cattle Feeders executive director Andrea van Iterson, whose family has run Westwold View Farms near Kamloops since relocating from Kelowna in 1993.
“I have this deep love for the place and the cattle industry,” she says. “I worked off farm for about eight years, but I’ve been back full-time for four years now.”
The farm includes a dairy as well as a backgrounding operation that feeds 2,500 animals each winter.
“We purchase calves in the fall, mostly through the BC Livestock Producers Co-op auctions in Kamloops, though we do get some from Alberta and some direct from ranchers here in BC,” she says.
They look for smaller calves between 350 and 500 pounds, both steers and heifers, and aim to double their weight. The steers are typically 875 to 900 pounds when they leave, while the heifers reach around 850.
The largest ones will begin to leave as soon as February and the last ones are out the door by May.
“Typically, our animals are under contract and go south to a finishing feedlot in the US,” she says. “But that depends on our cow plan each fall.”
The finishing feedlot doubles their weight again over the next six months, up to a slaughter size of 1,500 to 1,600 pounds.
While the pens will be empty by spring, the work doesn’t stop. Some grass-fed cattle spend the summer, but the operation hinges on growing its own forage.
“We bale alfalfa and we grow corn that we put up for silage and have some extra dairy hay that we are able to sell,” says van Iterson.
Cow manure and composted chicken manure nourishes the forage crops and is their only source of fertilizer. All the feedlot waste (sawdust and manure) is carefully composted and sold to commercial clients including landscapers, school districts and the city of Kamloops.
Costs are managed with the same eye to efficiency.
“There is no ‘let’s guess this,’” says van Iterson. “We try to buy our extra inputs like barley in the summer months when it’s a little bit cheaper and we will try to contract some so we have a pretty good idea going into the fall what our costs will be through the winter.”
Three unknowns are exchange rate fluctuations, how weather will affect the crops and price of extra feed ingredients, and, of course, calf prices.
“Some years, the calf prices are high and the cow-calf guy has a wonderful year and we are paying more for their calf,” says van Iterson. “And maybe the calf isn’t worth more out the other end, or maybe it is worth more, but we don’t take the opportunity when we should and prices drop through the winter.”
She says contracting is a way to hedge against price swings.
“We contract most of what we do, so that is our way of managing the risk,” she explains. “There is Western Livestock Price Insurance we can buy. It’s a government-run program, kind of like the crop insurance program but different.”
With respect to the proposed packing plant, she doesn’t think cattle feeders need convincing.
“There is excitement in the feeding industry around the proposed BC packing plant,” she says. “If there is somewhere to kill cattle, we can get a supply of them.”
Westwold View has looked into feeding year-round but hasn’t done it, even though it could make economic sense.
“Any pounds that we put on the cattle we are getting paid for, so the longer we retain them that, is going to benefit us,” she says. “If we had a market in BC, we would never turn that away.”
A local packing plant would also remove middlemen from the market.
Right now, there’s a broker for every transaction. A producer sells calves at the auction mart, which takes a commission. Backgrounders feed them and when the animals go for finishing, they are going to go through a broker again as another trade occurs.
“There wouldn’t be the in-between backgrounder like us if there wasn’t money in it,” says van Iterson.
The new plant could create finishing opportunities in BC, helping keep more money at home. But producers need to see a clear benefit versus selling at auction.
“There is likely going to need to be some retained ownership through the feeding process so that they get their premium when the animal goes into the BC plant,” says van Iterson.
On the whole, however, she thinks change will come.
“It is very welcome to the feeding industry,” she says. “Build it and they will come.”
Vol. 105 Issue 1
STORIES IN THIS EDITION
Province boosts ag spending
It’s a draw!
Editorial: Vice grip
Back Forty: Snow days make good days for seed selection
Viewpoint: Farmers need to prepare for annual snow melt
Smooth start to season as foreign workers arrive
Sidebar: Province mulls piece rates
Late winter has some Okanagan growers on edge
Ag show attracts near-record attendance
Ag Briefs: Traceability funding available for producers
Ag Briefs: Cattlemen’s launches webinar series
Ag Briefs: Grant winner announced
Labour remains a priority for fruit growers
Dairy, aquaculture take home awards at gala
Farmers need to prepare for uncertainty
Ag critic listens to concerns at farmers’ institute
Growers are responsible for workers’ safety
Robotic milkers sized up during dairy tour
Safe, high-quality silage depends on preparation
Diversification makes orchard a landmark
Ranchers need to match forage with herd needs
Producers question new Indigenous rights law
Hosting TRU students a way to give back
Livestock co-op provides selling, buying options
Sidebar: Market set to stay steady
Research: Bluetongue outbreaks expected to increase
Filling a niche for gourmet mushrooms
Regulations, housing key issues in Langley
Sheep producers seeing value in genetic program
Above and beyond
Vegetation fundamental to farms, landscape
Studies continue on forage, corn crop pests
4-H BC leader singled out
Growers go with the grain of beer revival
Agri-tourism has plenty of room for growth
Rose stem girdler poses threat to cranberries
Site prep critical for healthy hazelnut orchards
Sidebar: BC renewal program opens up
Wannabe: Renewal comes with a new generation of farmers
Woodshed: Deborah and Doug McLeod turn up the heat
A good place to meet up
Jude’s Kitchen: Celebrate spring by eating outside