Futurist to beef producers: Global trends are your friends

Bob Treadway says global demand should stay strong and 
sustainable beef is a winner, but COOL won’t be solved for a while

It’s a good time to be a beef producer, but keep an eye on long-term trends.

That’s the message futurist Bob Treadway brought to the Alberta Beef Industry Conference last month.

“I think there’s a bright future ahead. In the animal protein sector, I think you’re where the crop producers were six years ago,” he said. “You’re heading into an environment like they did, where they could make money in spite of themselves. I think a lot of money was left on the table because they were not efficient enough, and I hope you do not do that.”

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The Californian also warned producers they need to be prepared for volatile weather. The cattle herd in his home state has shrunk by an estimated one-quarter in the last few years in the face of the state’s worst droughts on record.

Treadway pointed to one climate study that predicts the U.S., Canada, Russia, and northern China will become more suitable for agriculture. But there will also be more extreme swings in weather patterns, he said.

“Climate is going to change, and that significantly impacts you positively. But you also need to be prepared for the kind of volatility that you can see, especially at the high latitudes that you are in.”

He also predicted Canada’s free trade deal with the European Union should pay off in about two to eight years, depending on when Europe’s economy recovers and paves the way for substantially higher beef imports.

And it will also take years before there’s a resolution to the U.S. country-of-origin labelling law, largely because nothing happens quickly in Washington these days, he said.

“You’re talking about an environment where nothing gets done for a substantial period of time south of the border, just because of the (political) gridlock there,” said Treadway. “It’s toxic. I don’t see it changing any time soon.”

But the U.S. economic recovery will lift Canada’s fortunes, said Treadway, who predicted American GDP growth will hit three per cent this year and next.

However, Canadians should also look to other nations and diversify their trading partners.

“The world economic situation is right for your product,” he said.

The United Nations has reworked its population projections and now expects there will be nine billion people in the world by 2035, and possibly 11 billion by the end of this century.

“It’s coming faster than we anticipated and the reason is that Africa is coming on stronger than ever before,” said Treadway.

By 2025, half the world’s people will be relying on imported food, he said. China will be a big export opportunity as its middle class expands. Asia Pacific and areas such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Europe will also be good areas for export development.

But beef producers need to become more efficient to capture those opportunities, he said.

Treadway praised the Canadian beef sector’s focus on sustainability, coupled with traceability and aggregation of data, saying it will give the country an advantage.

The key is offering customers what they want, he said.

“If you do it right, do it carefully and do it consistently, you stand to benefit from that,” said Treadway.

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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