Canada Beef charting its own course

Rob Meijer says straw man report offers an ‘interesting perspective’ but Canada Beef has its own plan for boosting the fortunes of the beef industry

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The newly formed Council of Beef Leaders may be missing a key player when it meets later this winter.

“The beef industry has enough structures and organizations and committees,” said Rob Meijer, president of Canada Beef Inc. “We’re not of the view that we need yet another one.

“We are nowhere near accepting of an advisory council.”

The council is one of the key recommendations of the Straw Man Beef Industry Initiative, an effort aimed at finding a fix for some of the critical issues bedevilling Canada’ s beef industry.

But Meijer said the report is just “a set of recommendations” that industry players could adopt at their own discretion.

“We take this and any other report with interest,” he said. “Where we are not at is taking the recommendations and building them into our strategy.”

The recommendations from the report echo much of the work that is already underway at Canada Beef, said Meijer.

“I see a lot of us already in the report,” he said, calling it an “indirect pat on the back.

“We’re on the right track, and I feel really good to see that in the report.”

And while the report offers an “interesting perspective” for the Canada Beef board to consider, the organization will continue to move forward with its own strategy, he said.

“At the end of the day, the provinces fund our organization, and we take our direction from the provinces,” said Meijer. “We respect the work of the straw men, but that is not who we take our direction from.”

Others supportive

The “straw men” — agri-food marketing specialist Kim McConnell and cattlemen David Andrews and John Kolk — developed the recommendations in response to a stinging critique by the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute, which slammed the beef industry for being complacent and lacking a strategy to succeed. Their report laid out a path for creating a “results-based” strategy to grow the national herd and make Canadian beef the “preferred” choice at home and abroad.

The report’s recommendations have been well received and have “pretty good support” from cattle feeders, said Bryan Walton, chief executive officer of the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association.

“We believed in this from the beginning,” said Walton.

Unlike Meijer, Walton said he welcomes the creation of the leaders’ council as a forum where “high-level, strategic perspectives” can be discussed.

More from the Alberta Farmer website: Beef industry leaders urged to unit for the common good

“When we can come together in a meeting place and be more efficient about how we operate our various organizations, I think that’s all positive for the industry,” he said.

“Overall, I think it’s created some opportunity for some dialogue around some important industry issues.” Alberta Beef Producers’ chair Greg Bowie calls the process “worthwhile.”

“They’ve got the industry thinking about what needs to be done to keep moving forward,” he said.

However, Alberta Beef Producers will follow the lead of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (one of the other organizations invited to join the leaders’ council), said Bowie.

“The national beef industry plan is where we’d like to focus our attention,” he said.

Funding needed

One area where all players seem in agreement is on the need for increased funding.

“It is, in a global context, time that we go out there and flex our muscles. And it’s going to take a little bit more money,” said Meijer.

Funding is also a major concern for Alberta Beef Producers, which has lost revenue since the province changed the checkoff rules to allow producers and feeders to apply for a refund.

“Our funding has certainly shrunk over the last number of years,” said Bowie. “Some type of a structure change needs to be looked at.”

But the straw men’s call for a national checkoff of up to $5 per head won’t win support until producers see more value for their dollars, said Meijer. His organization does that, he said, and directing a national levy to Canada Beef would be better than provincial “clawbacks,” he said.

“We would rather that stay with us,” Meijer said. “We have all the resources and expertise, and we can provide them the regional or local support.”

Without additional funding, Canada’s beef industry will continue to struggle on the global stage.

“What we’re up against in the global marketplace is literally a David and Goliath,” said Meijer.

“We are David, and there are many nations, with their brand and marketing budgets, that are truly Goliath.”

A date for the first meeting of the leaders’ council had not been confirmed at press time. But it was announced two well-known figures in the industry had agreed to assist in a survey of senior industry leaders. The “one-on-one interviews” will be used to “evaluate alignment among the sectors” within the industry.

Consultant Jerry Bouma will conduct the interviews but will be assisted by Steve Morgan Jones, formerly director general of science partnerships with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and Allan Preston, a former provincial assistant deputy minister from Manitoba.

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About the author

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Jennifer Blair

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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