By Tom Collins
WOODSTOCK — A dairy farmer who uses the show circuit to promote cattle, calves and embryos says that show cancellations due to COVID-19 are “absolutely devastating.”
John Martin, of Marthaven Holsteins at Woodstock in Oxford County, told Farmers Forum that the sale of live animals from his farm has been cut by 75 per cent this year and embryo sales dropped 50 per cent. “It’s really damaging,” he said.
Normally, Martin likes to drop in on other farmers to look at cattle and occasionally buy one. He’s not visiting as many barns right now, and even when he does, he passes on cattle he would normally buy.
“There is a cow that I saw one day last week,” he said. “Typically, I would have just bought her, no question. Part of me says I should do it, the other part of me says, ‘what the heck for? What are you going to do with her after you get her?’ There’s no place to take her.”
While smaller shows have been cancelled, the fate of larger county shows, as well as World Dairy Expo and the Toronto Royal, have yet to be determined. The Ontario Summer Show at Lindsay, normally held in July, was postponed to the fall.
If the World Dairy Expo, held in Wisconsin in October, goes ahead, there is no guarantee the U.S.-Canada border would be reopened to non-essential travel, said Martin. Even if it were, Canadian farmers might decide to stay away with the high number of COVID-19 cases south of the border, he said. “I can’t imagine there would be any foreign visitors there.”
To try and fill the void, Ontario Holstein is holding an online show where farmers can submit videos and images of their cows in advance. The show will be judged by Guelph’s Brian Carscadden and winners will be announced June 19 on Facebook.
While Martin applauds the effort, he says farmers with better cameras and brighter barns might have an advantage. Live shows also give farmers a chance to network and talk up their stock to potential buyers, he said.
“The social aspect to promote whatever you’re selling to other breeders in your county or from the other side of the country — it’s pretty hard to beat that one-on-one contact,” he said. “It’s pretty tough to salvage much when you can’t actually show a live animal.”
Embryo sales have also dropped dramatically. There are estimates that 80 per cent of all Canadian embryo sales from show cows are sold to other countries, with Europe, Japan, South Korea, Australia being the biggest buyers.
Some farmers are already feeling the pinch. Buyers from South Korea are subsidized by its government. One recent contract was for embryos was put on hold. “Governments are running out of money,” said Eastern Ontario dairy farmer Steve Velthuis, who lost a contract for what he figures would have been 10 embryos sold at $10,000 each. “These embryos out of these show cattle are selling at a premium but governments are starting to realize they can’t afford the premium.”
Justin Bos, of Bosdale Farms at Cambridge, said that his farm does most of their cattle and embryo sales after the major fall shows, so he hasn’t been affected yet.
“There would be a negative impact if some of those fall shows are cancelled,” he said. “We always get quite a bit of interest through them.”