(Bloomberg) — Canada is now a top buyer of U.S. corn as livestock producers seek grain to feed their animals. Dry conditions wiped out up to 40% of western Canadian grain production last year, driving barley and other crop prices to all-time highs and leaving food shortages for the country’s beef industry. The pressure prompted Canada to make a rare commitment to import about 3.2 million metric tons of corn from its southern neighbor, according to data from the US Department of Agriculture. That’s the most for about two decades and compares to just 457,000 tonnes a year ago. Canada is now one of the biggest buyers along with China, Mexico and Japan, and its buying spree is reducing already tight feed grain stocks.

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“If you can’t get a car tire, that’s a disadvantage. If a cow can’t get something to eat, that’s a major problem,” said Bob Lowe, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

Lowe uses about 40 tons of American corn a day to feed its 5,000 cattle in Nanton, Alberta. The recent cold spell prompted him to buy about 15% more maize than he usually needs to feed his animals this winter. Widespread drought means there is no local alternative available, and omicron-related disruptions at Alberta’s largest beef processing plants have left some producers feeding animals longer, a he declared.

“Keeping livestock alive becomes the number one criteria and the economy comes a long way behind,” Lowe said.

Earlier this week, Canada also made a rare purchase of European barley, as supplies on the Prairies are limited, and European malting barley is cheaper and of higher quality than what is available. The northern nation has not imported significant volumes from the European Union since the 2015-16 season, according to trade data.

Additional corn exports are pushing up prices for U.S. farmers, but demand could slow if Canadian farmers recover from last year’s drought and increase yields this year.

“It will probably be unique,” ​​said Angie Setzer, co-founder and partner of agricultural consultancy ConsusROI, over the phone.

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