Slimmed-down cattle organization looks forward to better days

During a dark year, there have been some silver linings, say officials with Alberta Beef Producers

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Alberta Beef Producers is heading into the new year by celebrating some wins, and by proceeding with the slimming down of the organization’s governance model.

The province has approved the governance changes, chair Kelly Smith-Fraser said at the organization’s virtual town hall, held at the end of November.

Kelly Smith-Fraser.
photo: Supplied

“The geographical zones have been reduced from nine to five zones, and the number of delegates from 54 to 35,” she said.

The board of directors will be up for election at the annual general meeting in March. Twelve positions are available, with at least one director elected from each geographical zone. The cattle feeder and cow-calf councils have ceased operations.

The pandemic was, of course, the overriding issue of the year and the organization focused on two areas where it could be the most effective for its members, said Smith-Fraser.

“During the first wave of COVID-19, ABP stepped up its government relations and increased communication to producers,” said the Pine Lake rancher.

A trio of issues dominated talks with government, with Alberta Beef Producers joining other cattle and farm groups in pushing for changes.

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Cattle groups were successful in their lobbying efforts for a set-aside program that helps cover feed costs for animals that are ready for slaughter. Because of COVID-19 cases among workers in the spring, the Cargill plant at High River had to temporarily close while the JBS plant in Brooks temporarily went down to one shift. That produced a backlog of 130,000 cattle, which is still a couple of months away from being eliminated. The program, jointly funded by Ottawa and the province, has a $42-million price tag.

The most recent set-aside numbers have indicated that over 70,000 animals have been put on the program, with about half to be released by January.

The other two key lobbying efforts remain ongoing.

ABP and other cattle groups have lobbied for a reduction in premiums for the Western Livestock Price Insurance Program (WLPIP) premiums, but so far without success.

“The deadline for WLPIP came and went without a commitment from the government,” said Smith-Fraser. “But thankfully markets have yet to see a significant disruption as we head toward the end of the year.”

Meanwhile, a host of farm groups want governments to eliminate the reference margin limit for AgriStability. Late last month, federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau proposed eliminating the reference margin limit. But since the program is cost shared with provinces, the change would need their buy-in and some have said they can’t afford that.

Getting the word out

The pandemic has challenged everyone across the world and the cattle sector has done a good job in dealing with the unprecedented situation, said Smith-Fraser.

“Our industry organizations have been able to adapt, and this is something that we should be incredibly proud of.”

Communicating with producers has become even more important, officials said during the town hall. The organization’s new top executive, Brad Dubeau, said that was something he highlighted when being interviewed for the general manager position.

Brad Dubeau.
photo: Supplied

“I felt it was time to shake it up a bit using both traditional methods as well as new and exciting technology, so to reach as much of our demographics as possible,” he said.

The organization will be revamping its digital offerings in the coming year and has a goal of becoming a leading knowledge resource for beef production both locally and globally, said Dubeau.

Part of that effort will include a new app to deliver news in real time.

“When it comes to the app, producers will receive notifications for urgent notifications including disease notification, weather alerts and topics personally selected by the individual,” said Dubeau. “Our online communication hub acts as a daily resource and a platform for news that is most relevant to producers.”

This will include reports on markets, research, technology, global affairs, trends and activities that involve ABP. It will be producer focused, and will aggregate data based on what the user wants to read, hear or see about from the beef industry, he said.

But there will also be a new quarterly print magazine, which will replace the Grass Routes e-newsletter and the radio show Cattle Country. The magazine will be sent to everyone who currently has a subscription to Grass Routes.

Smith-Fraser reminded attendees at the virtual town hall that there are numerous COVID-19 resources on the organization’s website (www.albertabeef.org). For example, it has recently updated guidelines for cattle sales (prepared by the Canadian Cattlemen Association, Livestock Markets Association of Canada, and the Canadian Beef Breeds Councils).

Smith-Fraser also recommended that producers reach out to the government of Alberta to check on new restrictions for cattle sales.

“Please take all the necessary precautions,” she said.

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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