Prepare for drier times, grab federal climate money, and watch for meaningful government action on the processing side.
These are three key recommendations for positioning an outstanding educator, producer and farm in 2023.
Bart Lardner, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan and an expert on cow-calf and forage systems, said rainfall patterns have varied over the past three to five years and producers should prepare for a possible repeat next year.
“The Prairies are not receiving normal levels of annual precipitation in time for May and June,” he said, adding that many parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan have been under drought watch for three years now.
“Any events we’ve seen tend to be more severe thunderstorms with several inches of rain in a few hours, which is not what we want.”
Part of Lardner’s advice is to collaborate with others if dry times happen again.
“Work with your neighbors,” he said. “Maybe you have a grain producer or a crop producer. Can you partner with them and come with your animals to clean up crop residues? “Perhaps there is a product grown by a neighbor that will not bring money.”
He also recommends reducing heifer replacements to less than the typical 20 percent this year.
“Maybe don’t go with your annual grazing program in 2023,” he said. “Maybe stick to your breeding females. Also understand that it took decades to build a herd, so producers really want to keep count because that’s the number of cattle that work for that operation to service debt and pay off debt.
Be creative in finding alternative sources of fiber and hay, such as hay or straw, or using hay or pellets, and take a close look at the feeding program.
“I always say cattle get used to the management system they’re under,” Lardner said. “Sometimes we can overfeed animals and not realize we’re doing it. I think in 2021 and 2022, a lot of people realized that they can balance diets with a different ration than what they provide.
Farmers with multiple income streams should consider focusing their time and resources on the stream that makes the most money, Lardner said.
“The bottom line is that it’s a tough decision – they may have to destroy some of their animals for cash flow,” he said. “Maybe it took them a long time to get where they are and now they have to go back.”
The prospect of drought is one reason Ben Campbell recommends applying for grants from the $200 million Farm Climate Action Fund, which opened applications in August.
“It pays 85% of the big costs for things like water systems and fences and creek protection and all that,” said Campbell, who owns a ranch in the Black Diamond area.
“You will say, what are we preparing for?” Yes, we are preparing for drought. These things allow you to increase your productivity by improving pasture management.”
Cattle farmers should also consider locking into an Agricultural Financial Services Corporation revolving loan with a three-year interest rate.
“I have. Variable loans — like, if you don’t need it, you just don’t take any money out,” Campbell said. “You have a guaranteed good interest rate. For example, I have an interest rate below three percent.
The drought is also in the spotlight as Alberta Beef Producers Chair Melanie Wowk looks ahead to 2023.
“We’re running out of water,” said Wowk, who lives on a farm near Beauvallon, about 160 kilometers east of Edmonton. “Although there is good moisture here, our drilling sites are quite dry. “Some farmers should consider drilling additional wells on their property, but finding contractors and well fencing is difficult.”
Beef prices are up from last year, but have “dropped off” recently, Wowk said, adding that he fears more farmers will soon be out of business.
“If people don’t get the money they need to make some of their payments and dig their way out last year, I think we’re going to lose a lot more people,” he said. “You look at the (average) age of our producers, it is over 60. If they don’t pass it on to the next generation, if cow prices recover and are relatively strong this year, I think there will be more people. to sell.”
Wowk said producers should also monitor news on the political front.
Last July, the province said it was conducting a “competitiveness review” with the Alberta Beef Producers, the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association and the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association. One of its main objectives was to analyze the potential to “expand the harvesting capacity for small and medium-sized processors and to identify the supports required for this growth”.
The results of that study will be available later this year, and Wowk said he hopes it will be accompanied by an action plan.
“Hopefully there will be some guidance there to help improve cash flow (and maybe it will build some plants in Alberta,” he said. “Hopefully God will give us some answers because boy, oh boy, at the end of the day, some money we need the next generation to start winning.”