Chuck MacLean never planned on being the chairman of Alberta Beef Producers, much less lead it through one of its most tumultuous periods.
The outgoing ABP chairman only stepped up in 2009 when vice-chairman Kevin Boon unexpectedly left to become general manager of the B.C. Cattlemen s Association.
At that point there had been nobody that was in the progression, recalls MacLean. A couple of us put our name in and so I got elected, and then the next year I got elected again& it was more circumstance than a plan.
MacLean became chairman at a critical point in the organization s history as the province had just replaced the mandatory cattle checkoff with a refundable one. It was a controversial move and one that not only threatened the stability of ABP, but also the Canada Beef Export Federation and the Beef Information Centre. Both national agencies depended heavily on the provincial levy, as $1 from the $3 checkoff was sent to them and Alberta, the country s largest cattle producer, was a critical revenue stream.
One of MacLean s first tasks as chairman was to mount a furious effort to reinstate the $1 national checkoff as a mandatory levy, which required co-operation and close work with the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association and Jack Hayden, the Alberta agriculture minister of the day. Their joint efforts worked, but the levy wasn t reinstated until December 2010.
And that was a big turnaround because there had been a plan not to reinstate that $1 for at least two years, but no one understood the ramifications of that, said MacLean. The $1 is still on a ticking clock, it has a sunset clause on it and if ABP and the Alberta Cattle Feeders decide they don t like the $1, it comes off the table again.
MacLean also played a significant role in the amalgamation of the two national beef-marketing agencies. During his final term, the industry moved to consolidate the national agencies and after much uncertainty, Canada Beef Inc. was created, with its governance chairman none other than MacLean.
MacLean is proud of the new organization.
We have offices in five countries around the world, plus we have other people marketing our product there, he said. It s a huge project. It takes about $15 million a year to operate Canada Beef, so your $1 checkoff gets a lot of things done.
Alberta Beef Producers also played a lead role in dealing with another contentious issue, the Land Use Framework legislation.
We didn t get everything we asked for, but at that particular moment we got more than most other organizations got because I have never seen anybody else that they listened to, he said. Now I hear there s other bills coming down from the new premier, and that makes you feel good.
MacLean s other highlights include helping secure disaster relief funding through Agri-Recovery of $50 per head for Alberta producers affected by drought last year, and improvements on traceability and premise identification programs.
Diminishing cattle numbers
The biggest threat to the industry these days is the herd size, which is shrinking despite strong prices, said MacLean.
It s hard, the price of the cattle is there, but it doesn t appear that it s enough to make people want to increase production, he said. Part of the reason is that the other segment of agriculture, the grain side, is so strong that there s a competition for land.
MacLean has worked in virtually all sectors of the cattle business. He grew up in the Picture Butte area, left home to become a packer buyer, and later entered the feeding and order buying business. Today, in partnership with his two sons, he operates Porter &MacLean Livestock Management out of Medicine Hat, and South Island Farms, a feedlot and farming company near Bow Island. The companies employ 18 people.
MacLean said it s impossible to say which part of his business is his favourite.
There s nothing better than watching those calves get born and grow up. If you like action, then it s on the marketing side as a livestock dealer. I really like it all.
MacLean said he will miss serving as chairman, but a two-month trip to Arizona will help cushion the blow. He used to go every year with his wife, but ABP has kept him too busy the past two years. But more than the job, MacLean said he will miss working with the people of ABP.
With a group and directors like that, how can a guy not look good? he said.