Conference & AGM
First, I want to thank all of our SBA board members, members at large and staff for your support this past year. The challenges we have all faced have been unlike anything before, and I hope we are getting to the tail end of the things that 2020 threw at us.
We started the year with lower prices and a backlog of finished animals. Despite this we still had a great annual convention in North Battleford with producers gathering, sharing stories and good times were had by all. Felix Holtmann of Redmond Salt donated a chair to our fun auction and Craig Thoms purchased it for $800. The Saskatchewan Bison Association donated the funds to the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital. Thank you to everyone that participated in the convention and sale.
Once spring came the world hit the brakes with Covid-19 and government shutdowns. The bison industry was hit hard as backlogs of finished bison continue to persist. Several producers are facing tough times. We are not alone in this, and our provincial Ag Minister Marit started hosting weekly meetings to hear what was on the mind of Saskatchewan’s producer groups. Through these meetings we were fortunate enough to become part of the AgriRecovery Set Aside Program. The program was designed to assist producers with managing the costs of holding back market-ready animals for two months. It was expected that the bison could then be marketed. Although not a long-term solution to present problems, hopefully it will help some producers get through these tough times.
The Assurance System Producer Program was again offered to producers. It provides bison producers with a rebate for veterinarian assessments and approved eligible equipment expenses that improve animal welfare practices. Several more producers took training this year.
As the summer went on consumers became hungry for farm direct meat and many producers were happy to fill this market. This created challenges as butcher shops were swamped with business and the wait to get animals slaughtered and processed continued to get longer. Consumers also faced many challenges. In many areas, freezers were not available, and many consumers do not have the storage space for a large amount of frozen meat, so some ranchers took on the job of filling small orders.
Consumers were starting to want to know where their meat came from before Covid-19. With Covid-19 this movement is only getting stronger. Hopefully, those that are selling meat direct will continue to grow their business as things return to normal, which will help to strengthen our industry in the long run.
The SBA is working on a new website that will be focused on educating local consumers on the advantage of bison meat and help to tell the story of the Saskatchewan’s bison industry. Producers will have the ability to place where their ranch and other places that their meat is for sale on a map. There will be a small fee for this service, to help keep the website up to date and ensure that meat is available at the marked locations. The goal is to make finding our products as easy as possible and to maintain a positive image of the bison industry.
Although some producers continue to face challenging times, the downturn will be followed by a recovery. With the panic buying at the early stages of the pandemic, there were empty meat shelves in Canada and the U.S. It was clear that many consumers were purchasing bison as was evidenced by the empty shelves. This should convert to a few new consumers as more people try our product. Within Canada bison sales at the retail level are up 197% compared to last year, which is in large part due to more retail stores carrying bison. This is very exciting to see.
As the world returns to a more normal situation, we should have a larger market to fill, with a consumer base that continues to understand that a quality product is worth paying for.
As we finish the year, the SBA will be teaming up with MBA to host an online sale. The “No Borders Sale” will have many high-quality bison from across the prairies. Saskatchewan’s AGM and convention will be held on the same day, with quality speakers presenting for all of us to enjoy.
I want to personally and sincerely thank all of our members who continue to support the SBA and its activities. Thank you to the Board of Directors for all your work and direction which you have provided over the year and thank you to the office staff for all of your hard work and support as well.
It takes a quality team to keep things running smoothly and pointed in the right direction and I am very thankful for the team that we have. Together we will tackle whatever 2021 throws at us, I just hope we don’t find too many new curveballs in 2021.We could all use a little break and comradely which will hopefully happen at a summer field day in 2021.