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Saskatchewan bison industry 'exciting & bright' says SBA director

SBA AGM and breeding stock sale held in Yorkton.
A number of the bison – 40 – were stabled at the AgriArena for the weekend ready to go under the auction gavel.

YORKTON - The bison industry remains vibrant in the province, with an even brighter future.

At least that is the view of Denver Johnson a member of the Saskatchewan Bison Association’s Board of Director in an interview with Yorkton This Week on the weekend.

“I’m really excited about the state of our industry,” said Johnson who was in Yorkton for the SBA AGM and breeding stock sale.

Like all farm sectors the bison industry has seen it’s ups and downs, said the Prince Albert area farmer, but he added the bison business is in good shape at present.

“I see a brighter future ahead too,” he said.

Johnson said it’s often a case of meeting challenges head on to find solutions.

For example, at one point most bison were exported live for processing, most to the United States.

While export remains a significant part of the Saskatchewan industry, some producers are now processing their own animals – Johnson included – and marketing directly to consumers.

Even COVID was one of those things which was both good and bad for the industry depending how one approached it.

The negative was the closing of restaurants, with high end establishments a key market for bison, noted Johnson.

But the pandemic also had people staying home and looking for local food options.

“And we have this amazing product right here,” Johnson said of bison.

The AGM is another indication the industry is doing well right now.

“We’re really excited about the weekend,” said Johnson he estimated representatives about 50 of the province’s bison ranches were in attendance. He added there are about 300 production units in Saskatchewan, about half of those members of the SBA.

While the AGM was in-part about the business of the SBA, it is also an opportunity to bring speakers in to inform and educate, offered Johnson. This year that included;

* Meat sale regulations - Chris Smith (Ministry of Agriculture), Kelsie Dale (Ministry of Health)

* Whit Hibbard, Stockmanship Journal - an introduction to low stress bison handling

There was also a speaker from Farm Food Care Saskatchewan on how to build consumer trust, said Johnson.

In that area Johnson said bison are well situated to earn such trust.

“They are very natural,” he said, adding as naturally as possible makes sense for the animals, “. . . That’s when bison do best. They don’t do well being locked up for long.”

A number of the big beasts – 40 – were stabled at the AgriArena for the weekend ready to go under the auction gavel.

The sale is a chance to add new genetics to the herd, and Johnson said there a lot of fine animals among the 14 bulls, and pens of heifers.