The past week was full of good news for local bison producers, with the passing of the European free trade agreement and the announcement of funding from the federal government to promote bison in new markets.
Executive Director of the Canadian Bison Association Terry Kremeniuk says the free trade agreement with Europe will have a positive impact on the industry, which exports more than $32 million in Bison annually.
“Currently bison going into Europe has a 20 per cent tariff,” Kremeniuk said. “The implementation of the free trade agreement will remove that tariff. So if you take 20 per cent out of something and redistribute it through the value chain, everyone’s going to benefit, from the producer to the consumer.”
On Friday, Minister of Agriculture Gerry Ritz announced $225,000 in federal funding that will be used to “promote Canadian bison as a unique, high-quality meat product,” in markets such as Mexico and China.
Prince Albert area bison producer Josee Bourgoin says that while promoting bison is great for her industry, keeping up with an increase in demand for the meat will be hard to do.
“The value chain is not set up properly for bison,” Bourgoin said. “We need a value chain specific to bison and we need a slaughtering and processing facility so we can create enough quantity to supply restaurants and grocery stores.”
Bourgoin said that she would like to see bison meat available in more grocery stores, but she doesn’t think the industry has the means to support doing so.
“I think if (bison meat) is more available, then restaurants will serve it more, people will order it, and then want to buy it at stores to cook for themselves,” Bougoin said. “Right now I don’t see how we could, in our capacity, supply grocery stores in a reasonable way without adding huge costs to the end product.”
Kremeniuk acknowledges that supply is an issue, but says that it is part of a growing industry that can be solved over time.
“Through time profitability will grow in the industry and it will help deal with some of the supply issues,” Kremeniuk said. “Is it going to be at the level of supply the same way beef is? Absolutely not. It is always going to be a niche market product.”
Bourgoin agrees, saying it will take both time and money to alleviate the supply issues that come with industry expansion.
“Investing in marketing will definitely give sales a boost,” Bourgoin said. “And I know they want to boost bison sales with the free trade agreement, but some more investment is needed in the industry to create the supply in order to do that. So it’s a Catch- 22. You can increase consumer demand, but I think right now there’s a bit of a crisis to supply that demand.”