The Strathclair Auction Mart became the most recent casualty of the challenges faced by the cattle industry when it went out of business on the weekend.
"We have seen a decline in our business over the years, said the auction mart’s manager, Matthew Ramsey.
"More producers are getting out of cattle and focus more on grain. The cattle weren’t overly profitable over the years because of BSE and that chased a lot of the producers out. Then when prices were good again, a whole other wave of people that were glad to get rid of them at a good price came. We just weren’t busy enough to sustain a viable business."
With the closure of the Strathclair Auction Mart, which operated as a co-operative, between 12 and 20 part-time employees lost their jobs.
Perhaps equally important to the rural municipality of approximately 800 people is the loss of business generated when anywhere between 15 and 100 people would come to town for auctions and other events.
"It’s another nail in the box when you lose a business in a small town, that’s for sure," said Ken Wozney, reeve of the RM of Strathclair. "There’s always side-effects to that. You don’t have the people coming. You don’t have them passing through. You don’t have them shopping at their local businesses and everything else. It’s hard to keep businesses in small towns.
Aside from auctions, the loss of the business will be felt by several community groups. The local 4-H pony club used the facility and other local organizations would use the auction mart’s kitchen facilities and spaces as meeting rooms.
The economic decision to close the business could have an impact on the other businesses left behind.
"There’s no doubt the auction mart is going to be missed," Wozney said. "There was another business in town that brought business to other businesses. There’s no doubt it will be missed.
"The farmers have to go where they are going to get their best dollar for their product, which means if you don’t have farmers coming to the smaller sales here, they have to move their product to the bigger sales elsewhere," Wozney said. "That’s the way of life. That’s the way things seem to be going."
Ramsey said there were many factors that ultimately led to the decision, which employees started to hear about on Monday.
"BSE really taxed a lot of people and their pocketbooks and that, combined with grain prices being really high right now, there’s lots of guys that were mixed farmers that went all grain, no cattle. They ripped up their pasture and are now growing canola or wheat," Ramsey said.
"I think the cattle thing will come around, but this XL Beef thing sure isn’t what we need because we are already dealing with high grain prices, and now we are dealing with, I don’t know what you want to call it. A black eye?"
Wozney said most farmers south of Highway 45 had already gotten out of the cattle business, though there were still cattle producers in larger numbers north of that road in the northern part of the RM of Strathclair.
Ramsey said he didn’t think the auction mart would reopen under the existing co-operative and board of directors. He noted there is always a possibility that it could be sold off to another group or a single owner interested in running the facility.
"I guess I would never entirely rule it out, but it would certainly be tough for it to get going again," Ramsey said.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 11, 2012