They came from across Western Canada and as far away as New Brunswick. And all of them were passionate about beef.
The inaugural Canadian Beef Industry Conference, held at the beginning of August, was more of a success than anyone anticipated. More than 650 people from all sectors of the beef industry came from across Canada to attend the three-day conference in Calgary.
“We weren’t expecting a small group, but we weren’t expecting a group quite this big,” said Virgil Lowe, a producer with Bear Trap Feeders in Nanton, and one of the conference co-chairs.
The decision to hold a national beef conference came out of the discussions around Canada’s national beef strategy, released in January 2015.
“Virgil and I are both producers, so we felt that the appetite for this — not just from an organizational perspective — but from a producer perspective, was pretty high,” said Canadian Angus Association CEO Rob Smith, whose family runs a purebred operation in Olds.
“Honestly, we felt 500 (attendees) was achievable.”
Instead the three-day conference sold out. It kicked off with sessions explaining the four pillars of the national beef strategy: Connectivity, productivity, competitiveness, and beef demand. Breakout afternoon sessions delved into strategies attendees could use to implement the pillars. The conference also combined semi-annual and annual meetings of several stakeholder groups, and learning and networking opportunities. Organizers included the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, the Beef Cattle Research Council, Canada Beef, and the Canadian Beef Breeds Council with numerous volunteers and smaller organizations also helping stage the event.
Robert Dixon, a purebred producer from Vermilion and program head for agricultural business at Lakeland College, was impressed by the conference.
“I think this conference is an incredible opportunity to bring in several facets of the beef industry groups — that have been incredibly valuable in terms of our industry lobbying and being the voice of Canadian cattle — and being able to bring them together and have more communication,” said Dixon. “Understanding what each group is going to achieve has been phenomenal.”
Dixon is a recent graduate of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Young Leaders program, which celebrated its fifth anniversary at the conference.
“There are several past alumni and mentors here, you can see how much this program has been valuable to the industry,” he said. “And we’ve had the ability to network with influential and key players in the beef industry in Canada.”
In addition to attracting younger producers, there were also a large number of women attendees.
“That’s because this is not focused just on meetings — it’s focused on the beef industry,” said Lowe. “We’ve identified who wants to learn about the beef industry, which is everyone throughout the industry, not just the grey-haired guys.”
The demographics of the organizing committee were also young, with more than half of the members under the age of 32.
“We have recognized that the last three years have been really solid economically, so there have been a lot more young people coming back to the industry,” said Smith. “There’s been a lot of succession that if it’s not accomplished, then it’s certainly moving towards that.”
The conference also did well in terms of social media. During the second day, the hashtag #CBIC2016 began trending in Canada, thanks to tweets from conference attendees.
“Gen Y and millennials want to get together,” said Smith. “They want to get together and learn from one another, and they want to be able to engage and connect with the experts. So we wanted to create that as a focal point, recognizing that if we have our younger and less experienced folks with our older, more experienced folks, what could come out of this could perhaps be a revolution for us. We’re feeling like we might have taken some steps toward that.”
“Highlights for me included the sheer numbers and the interest from the attendees and sponsors,” added Lowe. “Those were the things I didn’t expect and that was great… We have people from all across the country and all sectors of the industry. I’ve talked to people from every sector and geographic region and they’re all very pleased with what we’ve been able to do.”
The conference will not be a one-off. Next year’s conference will be held in Calgary and the event will move to a new province in 2018 to become truly national in scope.