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George Groeneveld Deserved A Much Better Fate

I think we just kneecapped the only ag minister in memory in this country who really had the good of agriculture at heart.

President, beef initiative group

Re: New ag minister could change political fortunes, editorial Feb. 1.

If there exists any problem in the countryside it was caused by deceitful manipulation of the facts, self-serving spin and Alberta Beef Producers’ (ABP) twisting of the truth – not anything former Alberta agriculture minister George Groeneveld caused.

The very media that is now chastising Premier Ed Stelmach for chasing energy out of the province was the same media that in 2007 insisted the province was not getting its fair share of royalties.

Likewise for agriculture, in October, 2007 Groeneveld called together five industry organizations, including ABP, that comprised a thorough cross-section of the beef industry and charged the five to develop prescriptions for a future strategy for the beef industry. Groeneveld said government would not lead the parade but would assist industry in implementing whatever they decided was prudent. All five groups were asked to provide input into what became the Alberta Livestock and Meat Strategy (ALMS) and Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA). Groeneveld committed $365 million for the Alberta Farm Recovery Program announced simultaneously with ALMS and ALMA at a time when taxpayers’ patience for supporting agriculture was wearing thin.

Are we now looking a gift horse in the mouth?

In 2008 Groeneveld said the beef industry had spiralled down to such a state of disrepair that if we did not do something there would no longer be an industry and we’d better plan an exit strategy. Some in the media and ABP twisted that to read that the minister stated, “do it my way or exit the industry.”

If the former minister has been guilty of anything, it would be of treating ABP and journalists such as Will Verboven far too gently in the hopes they would recognize the need of an ALMA-type board to take on international trade and government policy discussion for the livestock industry, rather than a board of laymen ranchers and farmers who are obviously overwhelmed.

Meat and Livestock Australia, which served as the template for ALMA, has demonstrated exemplary results of what can happen when government and industry work together.

This Canadian industry, mesmerized by the American market, seems bent on self-destruction. Defying what ALMA can stand for will be a self-fulfilling prophecy and blame will need to rest largely on ABP, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and the likes of Verboven.

Critics have also challenged Bill 43, whereby Alberta’s mandatory

non-refundable cattle checkoff was transformed to refundable. They fail to point out this was not the first attempt to correct this injustice, and that the feedlot industry was not the only sector to push for change. In 2002 a concerted effort was made at changing this levy from non-refundable to refundable, but we lacked the political courage to bring it to legislation.

OXYMORON?

Groeneveld was not only the first ag minister in Canada since BSE hit to have the courage to publicly lobby for change in the livestock industry, he was also the first in Alberta to recognize the oxymoron that has existed with what ABP refers to as the only democratic industry organization in Alberta. How is it democratic when the members have zero choice in terms of financing the organization?

ABP’s mandate makes them little more than cheerleaders in today’s industry, yet producers had no fiduciary choice. Now they do, now ABP will have to demonstrate they are of value. That’s called accountability.

And yes, the feedlot industry may well be the sector that finally takes its share of checkoff dollars back and finally tackles this sorry industry’s problems from a business perspective. Kudos to them if they do, but just watch Verboven and ABP accuse them of dreaming up another power grab by the feedlot sector. They’ll never mention the fact the power grab just may breathe some honest competition into the industry.

If critics wish to assist the Alberta livestock industry, they really ought to take on educating producers of the need to think outside of their respective postal codes and realize that we are an exporting country, completely dependent on export markets.

Does anyone remember when we had an ag minister in Canada who actually owned a legitimate modern farm with a succession plan? Or one who raises a couple of hundred head of cattle a year and a few thousand acres of grain? Or one who did not have to claim a connection to agriculture as an ex-ostrich farmer or one whose father sold some oats to the racehorse industry in the States?

I think we just kneecapped the only ag minister in memory in this country who really had the good of agriculture at heart.

Good thing Groeneveld never set out to be a career politician, and why would one with hypocrites so handy with a knife in the back?

Cam Ostercamp is a rancher in Blackie, Alberta and

president of the Beef Initiative Group

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