Virginia cattle travel direct to Quebec

Apr 27, 2012

In an amusing change of pace, a government can be credited with reducing bureaucracy. Ranchers in Virginia can now sell their cattle directly to operators in eastern Canada without going through middlemen states, all thanks to the Virginia state government and interested Canadian cattle feeders.

After being approached by a Canadian importer, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) formed a plan to expedite the export process. In the past, Virginia cattle have been sold to cattle feeders in more northern or more traditionally “beef country” states, which then sold to Canadian importers. The new plan has already seen five loads of cattle sent directly to Canada. At current market value, the loads ran roughly $75,000 each.

Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd P. Haymore described it as a matchmaking venture and the benefits to both parties are numerous. Proximity, infrastructure, and the ability to complement each other’s needs and strengths all played a part in the arrangement.

“Virginia does not have any major feedlots or slaughter facilities,” said Frank Grades, livestock marketing director of VDACS. “For our 800,000 cows with calves, those calves leave the state at some point or another. A lot of our cattle have been going to backgrounding. And we do a lot of promotion work in Kansas, Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and other states.”

But Quebec feeds a lot of cattle, too. Dr. George Paradis, a Canadian veterinarian with Feedlot Health Management Services who has been inspecting the Virginia cattle, described how cattle feeders in Quebec buy Canadian cattle from nearby provinces. However “nearby” is relative.

Compared to the roughly 4,000 miles cattle from Alberta have to travel to get to feedlots in Quebec, the about 1,500-mile distance from Virginia to the boarder of Quebec is a lot more appealing.

“The shorter distance makes a big difference. Virginia has a lot of cattle to offer, but no feedlot operations. And in Quebec over here, we grow a lot of grain and soybeans, so we have the infrastructure to feed cattle.”

Paradis went on to say it was a good relationship for both parties. Grades agreed, saying it is an excellent arrangement for Virginia cattlemen.

“We’re very optimistic. We’re always looking after the next market. And we look after the people we do business with here in Virginia.”

Grades described the process by which the “matchmaking” came to be. “Our staff here at the Department of Ag looked into getting the permits and working with the vets and Canadian officials, making sure [the cattle and exporters] met requirements.” He said the process was exceptionally detail oriented and demanded a great deal of attention from everyone involved.

Paradis also commented on the detail-heavy nature of the arrangement. He described how each animal must be inspected by veterinarians several times over—from their home ranch to truck to the boarder—and documented at every step of the way.

“Once they are in Canada, I must inspect them again, and then again every month while they are in feedlots. There are lots of regulations in place.”

Paradis said that the difference in tracking systems between the U.S. and Canada was one of the biggest obstacles. Canada requires specified radio frequency identification (RFID) tags for cattle, whereas that is an optional identification system in the U.S. Even for those U.S. cattle already fitted with RFID tags, Paradis said the tags must be switched out for Canadian tags upon crossing the border.

When asked what might ease the existing regulatory obstacles to direct transport, Paradis cited the mode of documentation as a key area of improvement.

“The next step for North American trade would be to have those health certificates be all electronic. Right now, the Virginia farmer who wants to sell cattle to Canada, they have to have all the cattle inspected and everything is filled out by hand. It takes a lot of time. It takes time. It takes money.”

The current direct export of Virginia cattle follows similar, earlier direct-trade arrangements. Some earlier direct export of live cattle saw Virginia dairy cattle and South Dakota beef cattle shipped to Russia. — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor