Tight margins and ever changing markets have transformed many rough and tumble cowboys into savvy business people, said Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association president Cuyler Huffman.
Speaking at the Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce Thursday Huffman said the ranching industry has been challenging in the last decade.
Due to the Bovine spongiform encephalopathy crisis in 2003, many producers were forced to liquidate cattle at severely discounted prices or sell ranches entirely.
“In our area provincially and nationally, the number of cattle is much smaller,” Huffman said. “As in many industries, margins have become smaller and tighter due to rising input costs.”
A timely input cost the rancher is subject to is hydro and the increases of accrued 28.5 per cent over the next five years.
“Hydro is used to pump water for irrigation to produce hay,” he explained. “On our place the rate increase will cost us over $17,000 annually or in calf numbers about 27 calves.”
Other issues facing local ranchers are the provincial government’s modernization of the water act, the review of the agricultural land reserve, treaty negotiations, dam inspections and dealing with logging industry, he listed.
B.C.’s quite unique in the use of Crown range by ranchers through grazing licenses or leases, Huffman said.
The Association was formed in 1956 and currently has 140 member ranches, coming from cattlemen’s associations in the Chilcotin, Riske Creek, Springhouse, Big Lake, 150 Mile House and Horsefly.
Made of 22 directors, the association meets at least four times a year and at its AGM in February.
Huffman said the Cariboo region holds the largest number of cattle in B.C. and in B.C. the beef industry contributes about $600 million annually to the economy.
Nationally one of the largest issues is the U.S. mandatory Country of Origin Labelling (COOL). It requires beef, pork and other meats to be labelled with the country where the animal was born.
Because of C.O.O.L., U.S. ranchers, feedlot operators and meat packers must handle Canadian cattle separately from U.S. cattle, discouraging business with Canadian cattle producers because of the hassle as well as the extra cost involved, Huffman said.
“The USDA’s expected to necessitate additional segregation which will increase the impact to $90 to $100 per head. Right now it’s costing about $40 to $50 a head. COOL is costing the Canadian cattle industry about $640 million a year.”
Huffman said recently the World Trade Organization ruled the COOL legislation discriminates against Canadian livestock in the U.S. market.
As a result, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association is working with the Canadian government to lobby the U.S. and the Canadian government has released a list of items that could be potentially hit with tariffs as a result of COOL.
“COOL is solely politically motivated and serves no purpose to the beef industry in Canada or the U.S.,” Huffman said.
On the positive front, Huffman described the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement or CETA with the European Union as good for Canadian producers because it will allow the export of nearly 65,000 tons of Canadian beef valued at almost $600 million.
“Canadian Agriculture is the third largest contributor to our GDB behind the finance sector and manufacturing industries,” Huffman said. “Feed production contributed $33.75 billion to Canada’s economy in 2011. Canada exports 440 million pounds of beef to the U.S., Japan and other Pacific Rim markets.”
At a conference in Regina, Sask. recently, Huffman heard the world’s population is expected to be almost nine million people by 2050 and will require an estimated 70 per cent more food than currently produced.
“These numbers are staggering considering there’s no more land being made,” Huffman said. “Land is something that cannot be manufactured, therefore the land that’s available must be looked after. I do have a passion for the industry and feel we have something worth fighting for.”
Huffman said he often chuckles about his lot in life.
“Sometimes when you’re in the middle of a wreck moving cows and thinking you’d rather be anywhere but here, you will think how ironic it is that an hour ago you thought you were the luckiest person in the world to be on top of this good horse, through good country, moving good cows.”
Huffman was elected president in February.