Sask. needs to capitalize on projected livestock boon

The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon)

Thursday, January 25, 2007
Page: A9
Section: Forum
Byline: C.M. (Red) Williams
Source: Special to The StarPhoenix

Following is the opinion of the writer, president of Saskatchewan Agrivision Corporation.

The next 10 to 15 years have been coined as the era of the "Livestock Revolution" by researchers at the World Bank.

This view of the future is based on the growing demand for milk and meat, mainly by the rapidly emerging middle class consumers in the developing nations.

Some estimates put the global increase by 2020 at nearly double the current level right across the board for milk, beef, pork and poultry.

The implications are critical to the future of the prairie region. We have experiences from around the world to indicate how future production patterns likely will emerge. In the 1970s, the American expansion of large hog units began in the midwest and started to push out of the Corn Belt into the southern states, with some accompanying environmental problems.

The 1980s saw the concentration of large pork production units in northwestern Europe (Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands particularly), to be close to ocean ports required for the import of feed stuff.

Recently, the Netherlands government has acted to reduce the swine population drastically because of the inability of the land base to absorb the amount of manure produced.

Across Asia, a shift is taking place from thousands of backyard livestock producers to locating large dairy, poultry and pork units close to population centers, to shorten the distance to market.

However, this is now restricting the timely access to feed grain.

Note that in all these instances, the concentration of livestock near urban centres has exceeded the capacity of the surrounding fields to receive manure and, of course, has led to odour problems.

Quebec and Manitoba have recently halted the expansion of livestock numbers while they assess the way to locate production units to maximize production efficiencies through access to livestock, labour and feed, as well as to manage the application of manure as a natural fertilizer and control the potential for environmental problems.

Although livestock production often has been done close to the consumer, some factors may dictate another strategy. It is cheaper to ship finished meat and dairy products than to move an equivalent amount of grain and feed required to raise livestock.

Cattle are best raised where there are large areas of grazing lands.

Large intensive livestock units such as dairy, pigs, poultry and cattle feedlots need a large land base to receive manure and as a source to provide feed. Such livestock operations are best positioned at a distance from areas of built-up human habitation.

It doesn't take a genius to see the opportunity for increased livestock production across Saskatchewan, despite its relatively isolated transportation system.

We need a long-term plan for the livestock industry that can match our tremendous production capacities with the predicted growth in global demand for meat and dairy products.

The first point to make is that our livestock producers, like our grain farmers, are world leaders in production methods.

We clearly have the space and the feed resources to greatly expand the industry.

The Saskatchewan farming system needs the opportunity for an expanded and profitable alternative to the dominant straight grain production.

The poultry, dairy and pig production systems are well developed and capable of linking directly into the global markets.

Although the beef sector has the quality product to satisfy world markets, it has yet to develop the sophisticated branding system required to compete globally.

The livestock industry may strike many as small compared to the export growth of lumber and potash, for example, but an enlarged and expanded livestock production and processing industry has a critical role in not only sustaining the rural economy, but also in creating a platform for growth and Saskatchewan's success.