It’s not a midlife crisis but having reached the age of 50, Alberta Beef Producers is considering some lifestyle changes.
That includes reviewing the way that delegates are chosen, working more closely with both its national parent and its provincial sibling, and seizing “the opportunity” created by Beyond Meat, says ABP chair Charlie Christie.
“Our plan has been in the works for the past six months,” said Christie, who owns a cow-calf operation, feedlot and grain farm near Trochu.
The impetus for the review goes back further — to last fall’s plebiscite on making the $2 provincial beef checkoff non-refundable. It took years of work by ABP to get provincial approval for the vote but when it took place, it wasn’t the result (a narrow defeat of a mandatory checkoff) but the number of votes that hit the organization hard. Despite being the organization’s top priority, just 1,874 producers cast ballots even though an estimated 7,000 were eligible.
“The poor voter turnout was a bigger message than winning or losing,” said Christie.
That’s led to the development of a strategic plan in which engagement and communication — with producers, consumers and policy-makers — are top priorities, he said.
“We’re suggesting little change to what we are mandated to do,” Christie wrote in a recent ABP e-newsletter. “But (we) plan to introduce substantive changes in how we do this important work for our industry.”
Full details of the proposed changes for the 50-year-old organization (originally called the Alberta Cattle Commission) will be released during this year’s round of fall meetings, but one is changing the way delegates are chosen. ABP currently has nine zones with each having half a dozen delegates — or more than 50 in all.
Christie said the organization is considering how to attract and choose the best people, regardless of which zone they live in.
“We don’t really want to focus on where the people come from that represent the organization, but that we get the best people,” he said.
But there won’t be any rushed decisions, he added.
“We are going to focus on getting out to all the areas, and getting input from all those areas,” said Christie, whose term as chair is up in December. “We do recognize that the big challenge for us is still, and always will be, communication.”
Communication will be the major focus, and producers can expect to see more joint work with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and a continuation of the collaboration with the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association. Once distant, the two provincial cattle groups developed much closer ties while working on the checkoff plan.
“When we go to government, we want to make sure we are both at the table at the same time,” said Christie. “A lot of our issues are very similar. We are definitely stronger with one voice for our industry, so we hope to build on that relationship.”
In addition to developing stronger bonds with their members and other cattle groups, ABP also wants to connect with more consumers.
Paradoxically, the surging popularity of faux meat made from plant proteins might provide an opening to do that, said Christie.
“With Beyond Meat and stuff, we have a communication job to do — I see it as an opportunity where this stuff is getting lots of interest and lots of press.” he said. “We’ve been trying to tell our story and we just haven’t been getting heard.
“If we can come in behind some of their grandstanding with some information, then it’s an opportunity. People might actually hear us.”
He noted that will spotlight has focused on plant-based proteins, beef consumption and demand have actually gone up.
So it’s an important time for producers to be providing consumers, government and policy-makers with accurate and science-based messages, delivered in a positive manner,” he said.
“We need to be there with good, clear and truthful information,” he said.