Cattle and boxed beef shipments resume at Coutts, as protest continues

(K-State Research and Extension/ 2.0)

No matter where you turn in Alberta right now, everyone is talking about the blockade at the international Coutts/Sweetgrass border crossing.

Earlier in the week,  we reported the crossing was choked off to any traffic and the disruption was weighing heavily on local and international commerce, including shipments of boxed beef, live cattle, and feed.

The protest started on Saturday, January 29, and turned into a blockade at the border and orchestrated slow rolls of farm machinery down local southern Alberta highways.

The protestors have been negotiating with the RCMP. They’ve also been in contact with the United Conservative Party rural caucus asking the party lift all provincial restrictions and mandates related to vaccines and COVID-19, at which point they would allow traffic through the border crossing.

The situation shifted on Thursday, February 3, 2022, as, based on conversations with numerous feedyards, protestors, and industry associations, truck traffic is beginning to pass at the 24/7 crossing.

A feedyard owner and I exchanged texts which stated that he was able to get loads through the blockade on Thursday and planned to again today (Friday). He was confident that the protestors had come to their senses to not block commercial trucks going forward.

The tweet below posted by one of the protesters at Coutts shows liners with live cattle headed for the U.S. passing through the blockade.

One of the protestors called me and was adamant that, “any trucks not related to the protest are being let through,” and that lanes were opened both ways. RealAgriculture had received conflicting reports throughout the day on actual traffic flow from Canadian and U.S. officials.

Reefers have also passed through the border, but reports have been mixed on volumes and logistics. There have been reports of issues with blockades further north up the highway restricting traffic, which was creating hesitation for shippers to resume regular truck shipments.

In discussions with some feedyard owners late Thursday, both Alberta-based beef processors (Cargill and JBS) are planning for disruptions to the slaughter schedule in the next seven days due to the border disruption. In terms of reefer shipments and inventory levels of trim at the plants, a meat packer representative stated to RealAgriculture, “the situation is very fluid.”

For many cattle ranchers and cattle feeders seeing trucks roll through the border again after less than a week of total blockades is a relief. Greg Schmidt, chair of the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association stated to RealAgriculture, “Cattle feeders are relieved to see the return of traffic flow at the Coutts border crossing. This border is vital to all levels of our beef industry supply chain and we are eager to see trade restored, alleviating what had the potential to be significant issues.”

Earlier Thursday, the ACFA, CCA and ABP asked for swift action by the Alberta Government and the RCMP to clear the border.

There is mixed reporting on how long the blockade will continue at the Coutts border as discussions did take place on Thursday to move the entire protest to Edmonton on Friday morning, but that plan was later changed after the protesters voted against the move, according to the Western Standard.

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