Saturday July 12, 2014

Sheep sector funding future thinking

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It was only a couple of weeks ago I noted in this space how Canadian agriculture should not get too focused on canola and wheat since there are trends moving forward which should make other aspects of the industry more attractive.

One of the areas of growth I suggested we would see was in terms of domestic demand for lamb.

It was interesting to hear a recent speaker at Canola Days, part of Grain Millers Harvest Showdown in Yorkton, note that 55 per cent of Toronto’s current population were not born in Canada.

That is a number you might have expected in the early 1800s, not two centuries later.

But it shows Canada is again opening its doors to immigration, and thousands are taking the opportunity, just as most of our own forefathers did at some point over the last couple of hundred years.

The current wave of immigration is no longer European, but come from Asia, Africa, and South America. It is ethnically both different and more diverse than the earlier wave.

And with the diversity comes a much different palate in terms of food.

Goat and lamb both move up the list in term of favoured dining.

Farmers in Canada have always raised sheep, although in terms of genetic development the species has lagged well behind what has occurred in the beef, pork and poultry industries.

The reasons are many of course.

Sheep production has always been very much a niche enterprise and while niche markets by nature often mean higher margins, that is not generally the case with sheep.

So limited numbers, and values that are never substantially high, has meant research dollars into something like genetic improvement is harder to attract.

That is why a recent announcement in Regina has to be looked at as positive for the sheep sector.

The Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, joined Saskatchewan lamb producers to announce a $1.4 million federal investment to develop and implement a new meat grading system.

“The computer indexing and grading protocol offers members of the newly-formed Canadian Lamb Producers Cooperative (CLPC) with real-time access to data. Analysis of this information will ultimately lead to increased farm cash receipts through improved flock genetics, better feed management practices and reduced operating costs,” noted a government release.

“This project assists Canada’s lamb industry in attracting the domestic market as well as increasing traceability, which is crucial for exporting Canadian lamb to international markets.”

Having access to grading data is an integral step to understanding what genetics are superior in terms of carcass grade.

The announcement is particularly positive for the west, since 40 per cent of Canada’s sheep flock is located in Western Canada; 30 per cent in Ontario; 25 per cent in Quebec and five per cent in Atlantic Canada.

The release also noted exactly what I suggested in the earlier column, although growing demand is not just within Canada, noting “world-wide demand for lamb consistently outstrips supply.”

With our changing ethnic mix in Canada, the demand for lamb will only grow, and it is positive to see our federal government making an investment in helping producers be in a better position to meet the opportunities as they arise.

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