More than 400,000 new immigrants each year create new demand
OSGOODE — Canada’s growing diversity is helping fuel the rising price of lamb in Ontario and across the country. We have all seen the sticker shock at the grocery store, fuelled by supply chain issues and the war in Ukraine. When it comes to Ontario lamb, demand is outstripping supply and more people are taking note.
Lee Brien, of the Ontario Sheep Marketing Board, estimates there are about 3,000 producers in the province, up about 500 over the last five years. “There’s been a few good years of lamb production,” he said, adding there’s room to grow. “In Canada, we only produce about half of what’s needed.”
Canada welcomed more than 400,000 immigrants in 2021, the most ever in one year. That is where the main market is, according to Keith Todd, third-generation Lucknow sheep farmer. He has 550 ewes on 350 acres. “Ethnic groups coming in, whether from the Middle East, or Italy or Greece, they are lamb consumers.”
He also feels the industry is doing a better job of marketing lamb to new clientele. “Foodies are learning about the benefits of lamb.”
Bob Dale, of Dalefamlambs in Kemptville, agrees. “With restaurants closed during the pandemic, people were trying new things as they were eating at home more often.” Dale has been farming sheep for over a decade but it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 that he’s seen lamb prices tickling $4 a pound.
Stittsville’s Tom Black said he remembers getting $1 a pound only five years ago. While the rising price of lamb is good for producers, it doesn’t mean they’re cashing in. “Our prices for freezer product and breeding stock have all increased,” Dale said. “The price of fuel, and grain are up and fertilizer has doubled in price.”
That is echoed by Colleen Acres of Osgoode, south of urban Ottawa. The fifth-generation lamb farmer with 550 ewes says demand is strong while supply is limited. “Not a lot of people like to lamb in the fall and winter,” she said.
With the main competition from Australia and New Zealand, Acres said Ontario lamb is unique. “My customers tell me it’s a different product, with a diff erent fl avour profi le.” With the price of lamb on the rise, it may spark more farmers to give it a try as the animals are also easy to handle and initial costs are not high, Acres said. “It’s one of the few things that are not as expensive to get into. You don’t need a lot of infrastructure; a barn and some pastures, although it’s more labour intensive than beef farming.” She also raises beef.
The diversity that is helping fuel the demand is set to rise even higher with more than 147,000 new immigrants approved in the first quarter of this year.