Cattle imports still slow

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Aug 15, 2005
by WLJ

— Transportation shortage could linger.
Daily volumes of cattle entering the U.S. from Canada have increased slightly during the first half of August, compared to mid-July data. However, market analysts said the impact to the U.S. cattle markets has still been minimal, at most, and could remain that way through the rest of the year.
According to USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), 30,669 head of fed and feeder cattle entered the U.S. from Canada between July 18 and Aug. 10. However, that figure doesn’t include weekend movement of cattle, just weekday volumes. Over that period of time, 15,954 head of fed cattle, for immediate slaughter, were reported moving to U.S. packing plants, the other 14,715 head being feeder cattle going to certified U.S. feedlots.
The largest single daily volume, through last Wednesday, occurred August 8, when 1,763 of slaughter cattle and 2,610 head of feeder cattle crossed the border.
“We are talking about less than two percent of daily slaughter in the U.S. coming from Canadian cattle,” said Jim Robb, chief market analyst at the Livestock Market Information Center. “In most cases, the figure from Canada is less than one percent of daily (U.S.) slaughter.”
Two primary reasons have been cited for the slow pace of cattle coming in from Canada—fewer-than-expected fed cattle in Canada and the lack of available trucking.
Mark Gustafson, vice president for Swift International, told WLJ last week that the number of backlogged fed cattle in Canada isn’t nearly as large as many people thought.
“We’ve had a lot of problem finding enough cattle to justify loading a truck and getting them down here,” Gustafson said.
In addition, he said finding trucks to deliver cattle has been an even harder task than finding cattle ready for slaughter.
“Not only is it expensive to get trucks to deliver cattle but they are very hard to find, because they have either gone out of business entirely or have shifted into hauling other commodities or products,” Gustafson said. “We are seeing this on the refrigerated side also.”
Dennis Laycraft, executive vice president for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said that two of the five largest livestock haulers in Canada have both gotten out of the business and shifted their emphasis to another industry.
“After two years and two months of little or no cattle activity, they got out of livestock and started hauling from the oil patches,” said Laycraft. “That has turned out to be a very lucrative decision for them, and it appears unlikely they will get back into the cattle business.”
In addition, the number of qualified livestock truck drivers is down and that is keeping any available trucks for that purpose parked, according to Laycraft.
“When hauling cattle, there is more to it than just driving them to a destination,” he said. “Animal handling skills are required, and a lot of prospective drivers aren’t adequately trained or prepared for that part of the job.”
U.S. truck companies are also a little apprehensive of doing too much hauling of cattle from Canada because of the extra licensing that is required.
“U.S. haulers don’t have to have any more licensing than Canadian truckers, however, it does cost some to get that licensing done,” Laycraft said.
From a cost standpoint, cattle hauling expenses are on the verge of eclipsing $2.50 per loaded mile. Additional jumps in fuel cost could force that charge even higher, according to transportation companies. — Steven D. Vetter, WLJ Editor

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