The Virginia Department of Agriculture visited Canada last winter to promote Virginia beef cattle and ended up hosting two dozen Canadian feedlot representatives in August, which may boost already-booming cattle sales. Virginia farm exports to Canada totaled $296 million in 2016, an increase of 400 percent from a decade earlier, making that country Virginia’s second largest agricultural export market.
Two cattle buyers from Quebec began purchasing Virginia feeder cattle in 2012, with purchases totaling $31 million to date, according to VDACS. Feeder cattle are animals that are mature enough to be placed in a feedlot where they will be fattened prior to processing.
“As a family farmer myself and as a cattle person from Buckingham County, I certainly understand and appreciate how important Canada is to our farm economy in Virginia,” said Dr. Basil Gooden, Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry. “This year the United States cattle export numbers are almost triple what they were last year. So Canada is a very, very important player in the beef industry” and a great export market for Virginia feeder cattle, he explained.
While the quality of Virginia beef cattle is important, the real marketing advantage for Virginia cattlemen is geography. Canadian feedlots purchase most of their livestock from western Canada, requiring a 2,000-mile transport. Virginia cattle are only 600 to 700 miles away, said Mike Carpenter, VDACS manager of livestock marketing services.
During the summer tour, Canadian buyers visited cattle farms across the state.
“We want to develop relationships so we can do business with them in the future,” Carpenter said.
“We thought it was an important trip just to build a solid relationship,” agreed Adam Hill, quality assurance manager for the Ontario Cattle Feeders Association in London, Ontario. “We met approximately eight months ago at our annual convention in London, and we’re always looking for different avenues to get cattle, depending on the markets at the time of the year.
“Virginia definitely is closer; we’re still looking at the different avenues of how we could get the cattle, and the quality, obviously.”
Virginia’s total cattle inventory is about 1.6 million head, with 650,000 brood cows, according to VDACS. Cattle and calves are the state’s second-largest agricultural commodity, with annual sales estimated at $714 million. The VDACS Livestock Marketing Service is involved in selling an average of $200 million worth of cattle annually.