FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – With consumers noticing higher than normal prices for many products, including meat at stores, a local farmer says he’s not the one seeing any of that extra cash; it’s the international corporations that are dictating the market.
Jordan Kealy has been a farmer since 2008 in the Peace region, and he says British Columbia used to have as many as 400 slaughterhouses when he was a teenager. When the bigger companies came into the picture, Kealy says they pushed out the smaller operations and lobbied government to make it easier for the big corporations to make profits.
“In the big picture with Canada and the USA, Cargill is the largest processor in North America for cattle and some other products as well,” said Kealy.
“They’ve had a big advantage over the past 20 years. They’ve gone around and shut down a lot of local slaughterhouses and butchers, and they lobbied government to do it. When I was in my teens, B.C. used to have over 400 slaughterhouses that were mom-and-pop shops, and these slaughterhouses all contributed back into our local communities because they had local employees who spent their money back into the communities they live in.”
Kealy says the big companies, with their big budgets and influence, got the government to change regulations, making it harder for smaller operations to upgrade facilities or forcing them to spend money that they didn’t have.
When Jordan and his wife Karen started their farm in 2008, Kealy says his eyes were opened up to the amount of control the big businesses have over every facet of the industry.
“They set our auction prices. They set our feedlot prices. When the pandemic first hit, we were already at prices that haven’t changed for the past 20 years. The only thing that changed was when BSE (Mad Cow Disease) happened, and they dropped down even further, where our prices for cull cows are at right now. So it’s actually the farmers who are getting record low prices for their cull cows.”
Kealy explains that cull cows are the animals who have reached the end of their lifespan, they can’t reproduce anymore, have bad attitudes or are undesirable for another reason.
“Normally, the cull cows don’t have as much fat on them, so they’re usually the ones that are used for lean ground beef, sausages and other products. In Saskatchewan and Alberta, the droughts were bad enough that they ran out of pasture. They had to cull a lot earlier and a lot more than what they normally would. To take advantage of that scenario, Cargill says, you’re flooding the market, we’ll offer you a lower price. It’s gone to record low prices now because of that.”
With the impacts on farmers stretching across most of Canada, and North America, for that matter, the federal government committed to protecting these essential workers in May 2020.
In total, $252 million was earmarked, including $77.5 million for meat processors to retrofit their facilities and increase capacity, as well as personal protective equipment and health protocols to help protect workers from COVID-19.
Kealy says the big plants got money for renovations, but he never saw any of it.
“The government turned around and said, farmers are essential, and we need them to work, and we’re going to set aside $800 million of federal money to help them. That never happened.”
Kealy says he didn’t get much help when he contacted Farm Credit Canada.
“I phoned Farm Credit local, and they said, we don’t know anything about it. I called their head office back east, they said nothing exists federally that they’ve created for that. They said that money was going to be there for farmers even though it wasn’t.”
Kealy suggests the commitment made to Canadians at the beginning of the pandemic had less to do with helping farmers, and more to do with protecting an image.
“I think he was making it sound like he was catering to farmers, and that there’s a good, stable food supply, even though there are more small farmers going belly up because of the scenario that we’re in right now.”
While he’s battling to maintain his farm and continue to offer good products to consumers close to home, Kealy has found ways to stay afloat.
“If it wasn’t for us doing the direct marketing right now, we would probably have to just get rid of everything because we’d be losing money so badly. It’s actually more worthwhile to sell our cows and just sell the hay instead. It was either sell everything we had or find a different approach.”
Kealy says by cutting out the middle man, he can continue to offer grass-fed products at affordable prices.
“We started doing farmer’s markets for the past five months, and that’s actually been pretty good for us. We’re trying to do all of our marketing direct from our gate to your plate. The only middlemen are the slaughterhouse and the butcher. The nice thing about that is, they’re part of our local economy.”
When he was looking at prices for T-bone steaks, Kealy says he was shocked to see the increase over a short period of time.
“They were priced out at $14 a pound for a T-bone steak. After doing the farmer’s markets for three months, we went to check at the same place to update our prices. They were at $20 a pound, $6 a pound more in three and a half months.”
To find out about buying products directly from the producer, visit Kealy Farm on Facebook.
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