With isolation being the nature of ranching in many ways it has been business as usual during the COVID-19 pandemic, said the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association general manager.
“The one challenge at the beginning was keeping the processing end of things going, but by about May or June last year it was sorted out and processing plants kept going and are much safer,” Kevin Boon told Black Press Media.
Additionally, prices have remained strong because even a pandemic cannot take away the need for people to eat, said Boon, nothing the industry benefitted because more people became interested in understanding where their food came from and what it took to get it to their plate.
“There is a better understanding there and I would like to keep that going.”
A lot of people gravitated toward learning how to cook again, which Boon said might make a difference on the distribution of beef, whether it goes to a grocery store or a restaurant.
Boon said he is hopeful because an application has gone into the World Organization for Animal Health for Canada to change its status to a negligible-risk country for Bovine Sponiform Encephalopathy (BSE or Mad Cow Disease).
It will be voted on at the end of May 2021 by delegates attending the World Organization for Animal Health general session.
A change from controlled to negligible BSE-risk status would help secure and negotiate access for Canadian cattle and beef products to trade markets that require products to originate from negligible BSE-risk status countries.
It will allow Canadian ranchers to apply for some markets that have been closed to part or all of some products since 2003, said Boon, adding it is anticipated the vote will be favourable.
Certain milestones have to be reached to achieve the status and in the past 18 years, the testing has been very rigid on all animals, especially over 30 months old where they are susceptible to BSE.
There also has to be an 11-year period from the birth of the last known case until an application can be made for the negligible-risk status.
When asked about the biggest challenges facing ranchers, Boon said water and access to water is at the top, with the BCCA continuing to respond to the water sustainability act brought into force on Feb. 29, 2016 in B.C.
“It comes down to the ability to keep the rancher going and have that right to create and do business on the land,” he said.
Another challenge is increased predation on cattle by wolves, grizzly bears and cougars.
“Whether it is a coincidence or whether it is related with the ban of grizzly bear hunting, interaction with and conflicts with grizzly bears have increased, especially last year. I was reading a report from a conservationist saying the incidents are up 70 per cent in the last few years.”
Predators are always going to be there, but their numbers need to be kept at a reasonable amount, he added.
Presently in some areas of B.C. that is not the case, and there are incidents of predators coming into major urban centres, he said.
“If we have not got the balance right out in the Interior and the wilderness, they are going to move to where there is a food source. They will move to cattle or where they find easy prey.”
Apex predators such as grizzly bears and wolves do not have natural predators out in the wilderness and will propagate on their own quite willingly, Boon said.
“If we are not managing them we are really neglecting our duty at the top of the food chain to keep the balance for every other critter that is out there. They are going to devastate the rest of our wildlife population. It comes down to management of wildlife as a whole and not just single species at a time.”
With rising timber prices, the association will also be advocating for proper forage management as well as forest management, Boon noted.
“With a lack of wood out there, there is more probably going to be taken, so the question becomes what do we do with that land in between to make sure companies have a good plan for getting some plant growth there to keep it in place.”
Weighing in on the recent B.C. Court of Appeal ruling in favour of Douglas Lake Ranch in early March that closed public access to two lakes, Boon said he gets frustrated that a lot of media have made it into a “David and Goliath” story.
“It really isn’t,” he said, adding it is a concern of every private landowner whether they are raising food or not.“There is a reason we have private property and with 95 per cent of land in B.C. being Crown land there is a lot of land out there for people to enjoy.”
Private property being used for food production has to be protected, he added.
The industry is watching it very carefully, Boon said.
“It’s not about a U.S. billionaire against a few fishermen. It is much more about every food producer in the province wanting to be able to protect the ability to produce food on that land.”
Issues of liability, invasive weeds and fire, all have implications for private landowners, he added.