Having a national beef strategy has paid dividends and that’s why the sector has revised and updated it, say beef leaders.
“This is an ongoing plan for the industry,” said Anne Wasko, chair of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, one of seven groups behind the strategy. “The vision of the national beef strategy is a dynamic, profitable cattle and beef industry in Canada. Everything is built around that.”
The new five-year plan, which runs to 2024, is based on the same four “pillars” outlined in the 2015-19 version: beef demand, competitiveness, productivity and connectivity. All of the pillars are of equal importance, said Wasko.
“This is big-picture stuff,” she said. “You have to set those goals to get to those places we want to reach. We have to be realistic and have metrics there to make sure we’re heading down the right path.”
Those include some very specific targets.
“One of those is to try to increase the conception rate by two per cent,” Ryan Beierbach — a Saskatchewan rancher and chair of the Beef Cattle Research Council — says in a video on the renewed strategy.
“So on an operation like mine, if I could sell a couple more calves for $1,400 apiece, that goes straight to the bottom line.”
Having a clear set of goals and ways to measure progress has brought industry players together, said Michael Latimer, executive director for the Canadian Beef Breeds Council.
“In the last decade, there’s been a conscious effort from all the national groups and even the provincial organizations to work together in a collaborative way,” he said. “We know we need to work together. We know we need to make improvements, and we can do that through this. This still gives everybody the ability to do what they need to do.”
That also helps the industry when talking to government, said Wasko.
“The belief is that we can be stronger as an industry if we’re all speaking with one voice,” she said.
Some of the goals outlined in the first national strategy have been completed, while others are ongoing or being modified. (The entire plan can be found at www.beefstrategy.com, which also has videos outlining the four pillars.)
Both Latimer and Wasko pointed to efforts to build public trust that have flowed out of the original strategy.
A co-ordinated effort by beef groups to address concerns and communicate directly with consumers was a key goal of the strategy, said Latimer.
“We want to try and be proactive, rather than reactive to issues that pop up,” he said.
The Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef was also created during the first strategy.
“Those are two examples of pieces that help move the industry further, faster. They are two pieces that producers can be awfully proud about,” said Wasko.
The strategy also called for an annual national conference to bring industry players together (the fifth edition of the Canadian Beef Industry Conference will be held in B.C. in August) and an increase in the national beef checkoff (which was upped by a dollar to $2.50 per head).
But hitting targets set out in the strategy isn’t always enough. For example, many of the targets set for improving market access have been met, but more needs to be done, said Wasko.
“We know that we need to step it up and open up areas in trade that we need to move to the next level,” said Wasko, a market analyst with Gateway Livestock Services.
“There will be a bigger focus on genetic improvement,” added Latimer. “We didn’t have that in the last document. That will be a big change in how we start linking up the different data, particularly with the breed associations.”
More needs to be done to bring young people in the cattle business, said Wasko.
“The strategy is about dealing with upcoming challenges and opportunities, so that’s one area that we talk about,” she said. “Succession is an area of risk for our industry.”
The report card on the first national strategy states 15 per cent of the goals were completed and 61 per cent were ongoing. (As well, five per cent were near completion, seven per cent were not started due to funding constraints, seven per cent needed modification, and five per cent were mixed.)
Expect more changes when the new plan is unveiled in 2024.
“It’s a good plan, and it sets the stage where we want to go,” she said. “The next one will have lots of changes. The industry changes so rapidly that you need a dynamic plan to move with the industry.”