Ranchers unsure about future of industry as many make less than minimum wage
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."
- Boomtown no more: How Alberta's economy has changed, in spite of sky-high oil prices
- Dry temps speed up harvest in Alberta but degrade soil moisture levels
'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.
- Investors, lending policies increasing farmland prices: report
- 'A huge crop with nothing in it': Fort Macleod farmer disappointed with 2022 harvest
That should be concerning to consumers, who are sometimes paying record prices for beef at the grocery, but also to the greater Alberta economy, McGrath explained.
"The industry employs a lot of people when you start going down the chain," he said, adding that includes workers involved with meat processing, transportation, retailing and marketing.
"It's a major employer," McGrath said. "It contributes a lot to the economy, and the other thing that I think should be a concern is that ranchers punch above their weight class when it comes to some of the environmental preservation (actions, like) maintaining biodiversity, maintaining some of these native rangelands that do water filtration, carbon sequestration."
'THE PROFIT MARGIN IS VERY SLIM'
Shelby Blosky has been involved in ranching for 15 years alongside her husband Shayne. The pair own and operate Double S Ranch near Carnwood, Alta.
In her time in the industry, Shelby says she's seen countless ranchers decide to shut their farms down for good.
"There's a lot of people that are just saying enough is enough, especially the older generation," she told CTV News Edmonton. "It's too much. It's too expensive. You are spending more than you are bringing in."
The pair decided to forgo the traditional style of cattle raising and selling to feedlots by selling directly to customers.
"Raising the calves up and selling them to the commercial market in the fall just didn't make sense," Shelby said.
- Merritt, B.C., ranchers still recovering from triple natural disaster
- Farmers forced to sell their cows as drought conditions worsen across U.S.
- Sask. ranchers call for investigation into cattle and beef pricing
After buying young calves, the Bloskys raise them and send them to the butcher for processing once they are ready. Then they get the meat back, package it and sell it directly to consumers.
"The profit margin is very slim," she added. "We struggle to pay bills sometime, but we get through it."
"We try and be competitive with the grocery store as much as we can while still making it make sense," Shayne echoed. "If you worked out my hourly rate doing this, I am probably making much less than minimum wage."
Shayne Blosky watches over some of his herd at his family farm near near Carnwood, a central Alberta community approximately 72 kilometres west of Leduc (CTV News Edmonton/Cam Wiebe).
Shelby tries to engage and build a client base using social media and the couple are now building a small retail store at the corner of their farm so those in the area and travelling along the highway can stop in to buy meat.
"We just keep pushing as we can," Shelby said.
'PEOPLE NEED TO EAT'
McGrath believes the entire industry will need to pivot and adapt to ensure farmers can make a liveable wage.
"There's a lot of steps in the middle between when a cow exits my yard and shows up on a shelf in Costco for example," McGrath said. "There's a lot of people in the middle and a lot of families that provide that labour effort in the middle."
"I've sold entire cows for less than the price of that loin (in the grocery store)," he added. "The percentage that the producer gets is small in that total cost and it's also driven globally by prices and forces (like fuel or feed)."
- Alberta Opposition demands meetings with grocery chains over affordability concerns
- To buy or not to buy: When to go generic at the grocery store
For the Bloskys, no matter what happens, they are sticking with ranching.
"We need cattle," Shelby said. "We need producers and it needs to make sense for the producers to get into cattle or to grow their herds. People need to eat."
"Farmers are forever optimistic; next year's going to be better," she added with a smile. "That's kind of what we live on."
Shelby Blosky and her husband Shayne watch their herd at Double S Ranch (CTV News Edmonton/Amanda Anderson).
Her husband says he couldn't imagine doing any other job, as he adores the ranching lifestyle.
"This is what I love to do," Shayne added. "We slowly build ourselves every year. It would be great if we could multiply that a little bit quicker, but I don't want to lose what we've gained."
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
The Department of National Defence says Canada is working with the United States to protect sensitive information from foreign intelligence threats after a high-altitude surveillance balloon was detected.
Magic mushroom dispensaries are popping up in cities across Canada, with customers ranging from those looking for treatment for depression or PTSD to people wanting to 'micro-dose' a small amount of psilocybin, the hallucinogenic compound in magic mushrooms. But while the situation is in some ways reminiscent of when cannabis retailers set up shop before marijuana was legalized in 2018, Health Canada says there are no plans to legalize or decriminalize psilocybin products.
Hundreds of customers who scan QR codes for restaurant menus across Canada are being surprised by secret menus instead, revealing the hidden costs behind the food they eat.
With the anniversary of Ukraine's invasion by Russia around the corner, CTV News sat down with a Russian warfare expert to discuss how he sees the conflict playing out and what happens next.
According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, as of Thursday morning there were extreme cold or winter storm warnings active from coast to coast, with the harshest extreme cold warnings stretching from northern Alberta all the way to Nova Scotia.
One of Saskatchewan’s oldest hockey rinks has garnered national attention for its unique features and unusual design.
A paramedic signing off for duty for the last time got choked up and teary-eyed during his final radio call to colleagues.
Quebec is changing its vaccine strategy: public health officials are now recommending booster shots only for vulnerable people who have never had COVID-19.
Would you pay $300 a year for quick access to a nurse? Dealing with demand, Ontario doctors get creative
Paid subscriptions to on-demand care are among the many strategies primary health-care providers in Ontario are adopting in order to meet increased demand for access to doctors in the past year, while also managing staffing shortages.
After years of decline, demand for Calgary's downtown commercial real estate is showing signs of returning to life.
Artur Pawlowski is charged with breaching a release order and mischief for inciting people at the border crossing, where truckers gathered to block a highway.
Curling Canada says it is opening up its pregnancy exemption eligibility to all teams competing at next year's Canadian women's and men's championships, with the announcement coming a day after the organization came under fire for limiting the exemption to just the top five teams in the rankings.
Aaron Benneweis, 46, has been charged by Saskatoon Police with sexual assault and sexual exploitation of a minor while in a position of trust or authority.
Brian Hodgkinson always knew there was benzene in natural gas — after all, he spent 40 years working with it for SaskPower, then SaskEnergy.
A report written and reviewed by Saskatoon Water is calling on the city to create a warning system, in particular for drivers, when roadways become “dangerously flooded” due to heavy rain.
One of Saskatchewan’s oldest hockey rinks has garnered national attention for its unique features and unusual design.
The final details are being chiselled into place at the REAL District in preparation for the second annual Frost Festival taking place Feb. 3 to 12.
The Farmer and Rancher Mental Health (FARMh) Initiative has launched a mental wellness network along with a virtual toolbox full of mental health resources for the agriculture community.
On the day that Shubenacadie Sam predicted six more weeks of winter, there are extreme cold warnings cautioning that the coldest air of the season is about to arrive in the Maritimes.
Police in Sackville, N.B., are investigating after seven children ingested cannabis edibles at a middle school on Wednesday.
An extreme cold warning has been issued across the region, with some saying the arctic air could break record-low temperatures in the Maritimes.
'We win or it’s free' paralegal bribed court clerk in traffic ticket fixing scheme: testimony alleges
A paralegal firm whose tagline is “we win or it’s free” bribed a Toronto traffic court clerk to change legal records to make it look like they had won, said the clerk in the first time he has testified publicly about the case.
Toronto and most of Ontario are in for a frigid bout of winter weather, according to Environment Canada.
A group of Ontario Greens have put together a counteroffer for Liberals trying to poach their leader.
After an extremely mild month of January, the province is bracing for a blast of arctic air that will move in tonight and last until Saturday. Environment and Climate Change Canada has issued extreme cold warnings that covers most of the province with wind chills expected to be between -38 and -42 across the South and -50 across Northern Quebec.
A beloved man who was a fixture on the streets of Montreal's Notre-Dame-de-Grace neighbourhood died last year from a combination of street drugs in his system, including fentanyl, a coroner has ruled.
Medicago's parent company has announced that the Quebec City-based biopharmaceutical company, which developed a vaccine against COVID-19, will cease operations.
EXTREME COLD WARNING
EXTREME COLD WARNING | Temperatures to drop to -30 C the next two nights in Ottawa
Environment Canada has issued an extreme cold warning with Ottawa expected to see its coldest temperatures in years.
NEW THIS MORNING
NEW THIS MORNING | Winterlude returns to Ottawa and Gatineau
Winterlude kicks off in Ottawa and Gatineau today, as the national capital region's winter festival returns with in-person activities for the first time in three years.
NEW THIS MORNING
NEW THIS MORNING | What's happening in Ottawa this weekend: Feb. 3-5
CTVNewsOttawa.ca looks at things to do in Ottawa, eastern Ontario and western Quebec during the first weekend of February.
Police say they’ve arrested multiple people and one person was taken to hospital following reports of an armed robbery at Conestoga Mall on Thursday.
'Time to move on': Reaction as Udo Haan found not criminally responsible for wife’s death, house explosion
A Kitchener man, who was charged with killing his wife and then blowing up their home in 2018, has been found not criminally responsible.
A blast of cold Arctic air is expected to reach southern Ontario Thursday night paired with possible heavy blowing snow, according to Environment Canada.
An argument between two young children playing outside together escalated to violence when a parent got involved, a North Bay mom says.
The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. is holding a big reveal Friday morning: the winner of a $48 million Lotto 6/49 Gold Ball draw.
The past few weeks have been a bit of a roller coaster for 16-year-old Ra'Jah Mohamed, a student at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School.
New documents show what led to a couple handing out cannabis-infused gummies to children in Winnipeg - and what happened in the hours directly after.
Ducks Unlimited Canada is celebrating World Wetlands Day by highlighting a success story in Niverville, Man.
A mobile home owner could potentially be out thousands of dollars after learning her home might not be insurable.
CTV News has learned that four of five RCMP officers facing charges in the death of an Indigenous man during an arrest in Prince George are still on active duty.
A man who was gunned down outside of his business in South Vancouver never got the chance to meet his daughter, a court heard as his killer was sentenced.
A nationwide billboard campaign that appears to promote grunge-chic clothing for street youth is causing confusion and igniting debate.
A teenager from Nanaimo is being hailed as a hero by his family after a suspect wielding a knife entered their business and the boy scared them off using a baseball bat.
Hazmat teams were called to the BC Cancer Agency building in Victoria on Thursday due to reports of a "noxious odour" in the building.
A furry mascot endemic only to Vancouver Island is predicting six more weeks of winter on Groundhog Day.