More than 400 cattle producers came from far and wide to attend the 2009 Feeder Associations of Alberta (FAA) conference here in January. The annual event sees delegates gather from associations across the province.
Feeder associations were first established in Alberta over 70 years ago to provide government-guaranteed financing to producers who wanted to feed out cattle and lambs on their own premises. That activity over the years has developed into a business that in some years exceeds $200 million in financing.
Chairman Reg Schmidt in his opening address noted that feeder financing was down significantly from the previous year. As of November 2008 150,000 head valued at $86 million were being fed by association members, compared to 375,000 valued at $216 million in 2007.
He also announced that a support response team had been established to help any association that was encountering financial problems. The team is to be composed of an FAA board member, a local association board member and a lender representative member.
In reflecting on the state of the cattle industry, Schmidt reviewed several issues facing cattle feeders. He said the industry needed to take some serious steps to change the way cattle are marketed in order to survive. He cited the involvement of the FAA in the Alberta livestock and meat strategy discussions as a way to make that change.
Gary McAlister, one of the keynote speakers, provided an overview of how the Australian Meat and Livestock agency operates. That agency has been used as the model for the Alberta agency. The Australian model operates on an international level with a multimillion dollar budget sourced from a national checkoff on cattle, goats, buffalo and sheep.
Deputy agriculture Minister John Knapp and Alberta Meat and Livestock Agency director Dr. Sandra Honour updated delegates on the status of the agency and its work to date. They also responded to a number of questions including concerns with the mandatory age verification program. Dale Engstrom, government advisor to the FAA, also updated delegates as to changes to the Feeder Association Act that is scheduled to be introduced in the legislature this spring.
Alberta Agriculture Minister George Groeneveld told delegates that there was no turning back on the livestock strategy and that the cattle industry had to change in order to survive. He said that there will no longer be any short-term ad hoc funding from the government. He said progress was also being made on a national basis with both Saskatchewan and B. C. carefully evaluating the age verification program. He said he was particularly pleased with the 80 per cent participation rate of the program. He also complemented the FAA for their co-operative attitude in developing the livestock and meat strategy.
The conference also included an industry Hot Issues panel with representatives from the FAA, the Alberta Beef Producers, the Western Stock Growers Association and the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association.