It might be easier to tally up what isn’t new as Alberta Beef Producers heads towards the conclusion of a year that has seen unprecedented change.
The pandemic has, of course, been the big one, but the province’s largest cattle organization is also implementing a major revamp of its entire governance structure at a time when holding producer meetings has proven impossible. And for the first time in 13 years, it has a new general manager and is also in the process of hiring key staff.
Nominations for delegates closed just after the Oct. 19 edition of Alberta Farmer went to press, but chair Kelly Smith-Fraser was hoping for a robust field of candidates.
“We will have a clean slate in all five of the new zones,” said the Pine Lake rancher. “We are hoping to have 14 people running for the seven delegate positions in each zone. I’m really hoping that we get a strong contingency of people putting their names forward and wanting to be part of the organization.”
The change to five zones (northwest, northeast, central, southwest and southeast) from nine previously and cutting the number of delegates by about a third was still awaiting formal approval from the province but “we are moving forward,” said Smith-Fraser.
ABP’s leadership had hoped to have in-person meetings in each of the zones, but the challenges of holding meetings during the pandemic proved to be too much. And although much of the world has replaced face-to-face meetings with Zoom or some other form of video conferencing, that’s not a workable option unless you’re one of the lucky few who has broadband on the ranch.
So the election will be old school.
Every producer on ABP’s membership list will receive a package with a ballot and voting instructions by mail. The packages will also outline the new zones, and include information about each candidate. (Some delegates will serve a one-year term and others two years in order to have staggered elections in future.)
Producers will need to either mail in their ballots or vote online by December — with results being announced in January.
The organization is also going through some major staff changes. Brad Dubeau is now the general manager, replacing former executive director Rich Smith, who retired in June. A new government relations staff member, and marketing and communications manager will soon be joining the team.
An online town hall will be held on Nov. 26 to update members on some new projects, including a new platform to communicate with producers.
“We’ll be introducing the new staff and the new initiatives that we are undertaking under Brad’s guidance,” said Smith-Fraser. “It’s exciting. I’m looking forward to all the changes.”
The November meeting will also feature presentations on the Public and Stakeholder Engagement program, a $600,000-a-year initiative created as part of the national beef strategy. The program, funded by checkoff dollars, is designed to reach out to consumers in a proactive way, rather than just responding when critics attack the beef sector.
The following week, ABP will host another online meeting, and producers will be able to introduce resolutions.
“We’ll do a quick update of what we heard the previous week and move into resolutions from our producers,” said Smith-Fraser.
One thing that, happily, hasn’t changed a lot in the past year is cattle prices — despite the pandemic-caused production problems at the Cargill and JBS processing plants that created a huge backlog of market-ready cattle.
“We’re happy with the prices we’re seeing this fall — it seems we’re on par with what we were seeing previous years,” she said.
The organization is also looking forward to getting back to meeting in person, albeit on a small scale and many months from now.
Although the Alberta Beef Industry Conference has been cancelled, ABP is using that time as an opportunity to meet. It will be holding an in-person AGM March 3-4 in Red Deer with a small number of delegates, said Smith-Fraser.
“It’s been a moving target this fall trying to plan,” she added.