Canada beef producers concerned about dry 2023 followed by dry El Niño winter

2023 turned out to be a dry year for Central Plains, including Portage la Prairie. Manitoba AgricultureLivestock Specialist Shawn Cabak explains many southern areas saw 50 per cent precipitation or less. Entering into winter saw some tight feed supplies as a result. 

“Luckily, in 2022, we had some big forage crops, so we were able to build some reserves,” says Cabak. “That will help producers in this coming year when the forage supplies are down a bit. In terms of livestock pricing, we saw record prices for beef cattle. In terms of calf prices, fat prices, and feeder prices, we had a really strong market there. It did soften up a little bit near the end of ’23 and we’re now into ’24, So, there’s a lot of excitement for the industry because of the strong pricing.”

He notes expenses did increase, though. This explains the reason for those strong prices to allow good returns that producers require to be successful in the industry. 

“It’s a tough industry,” continues Cabak. “It’s a lot of work, and producers do it because they like the lifestyle and the work. But it’s always nice when you can make some decent dollars at the end of the day.” 

Cabak says that the previous dry year compounded by our current dry El Niño winter, brings us into the new year on a very dry basis.

“Hopefully, that changes to a nice amount of snow to give us a blanket to protect our forages and protect our winter cereals. That would be beneficial, and sooner the better,” says Cabak. “Luckily, we haven’t had the cold weather to really affect those crops. But some snow for moisture and also snow to help insulate the forages would be beneficial.” 

Since this interview, January 11 has brought us a waft of snow and that was much needed to provide blanket cover.

He notes much of the forages and alfalfa have a living crown. This means overly cold temperatures will bring winter kill without a good blanket of snow. 

“A lot of our other forages or grasses can winter-kill if temperatures are extreme. And if you don’t have that insulating layer from the snow, the temperatures are that much colder,” explains Cabak. “We’ve seen years where there’s a lack of snow cover. We had a number of years where we didn’t have much snow in ’21. If you get this lack of snow and then extreme cold, that’s when we’ll see the winter kill our forage stand. So, right now, we’ve been, hopefully, lucky in that the cold hasn’t arrived without the snow. But the cold’s coming and, hopefully, the snow as well.”