Small cheque and big excitement for animal science students

An $18.52 cheque caused excitement among Lakeland College animal science technology students earlier this year.

Students involved in the commercial beef unit of the student-managed farm received the payment in March after an animal they sold was processed through certified sustainable operations of the beef-supply chain. That triggered Lakeland’s first cheque through the Canadian Beef Sustainability Acceleration Pilot, which is an initiative in which cattle are produced according to Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef standards (and tracked from farm to slaughter).

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“Receiving the cheque is validation of the process we completed to operationalize sustainability and traceability programs at Lakeland College,” said Bevin Hamilton, program head of the animal science technology program at the Vermilion campus.

It was a process that began a few years ago when an advisory committee recommended that Lakeland become more involved in sustainable beef programs.

“We talked about these programs in class, but hadn’t done anything on our student-managed farm,” said Hamilton. “Having livestock enterprises that our students manage, we can let our students get involved and implement the programs. That’s what we decided to do.”

In September 2017, work began to attain Verified Beef Production Plus (VBP+) certification. Three students led the process, doing online training and workshops, filling in the VBP+ enrolment form and completing a self-assessment. In spring of 2018, following an on-site audit, Lakeland became the first post-secondary institution in Alberta to receive VBP+ certification

Last fall, students entered age verification information on calves from the commercial beef herd into the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency system and provided the Business Infoxchange System (TrustBIX) with their CCIA account number and their permission to share data. TrustBIX can then track the age-verified calves along with verification that they have come from a VBP+ certified herd, which is the basis for payments under the pilot program operated by Cargill.

Having students lead the sustainable beef efforts is key, said Geoff Brown, associate dean of Lakeland’s School of Agricultural Sciences.

“We’re exposing 60 to 70 students every year to these programs so when they go back to their farm or work elsewhere in the industry, they have working knowledge of these programs,” he said. “When their parents or a co-worker says these sustainable beef programs will never work, our students can say, ‘Yes they do, and we got the cheque to prove it.’”

And while the first payout was small (a second cheque arrived in June), it’s a motivator, he added.

“Our students got to see that there is a payoff and I think that’s huge. Now they’ll be trying to figure out how to get more cattle to qualify for the program.”

Michelle Duckworth, who graduated this year, is already seeing the payoff of this initiative. She’s now the cattle manager at L-7 Land & Cattle Inc., a company that is VBP+ certified and participates in the CRSB program.

“Having the opportunity to learn and implement these programs at Lakeland gave the practical experience that has allowed me to start my career off strong,” she said. “I believe that programs like these are putting us ahead of the game and will one day be the industry standard as sustainable beef is the future.”

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