In their words: Beef leaders talk about new national strategy

More co-operation, research, and efficiency — and less red tape — hailed as keys to a more prosperous future

The new national beef strategy is being led by a group of “Canadian beef advisers.” Five of those industry leaders spoke about the five-year plan at the recent Alberta Beef Industry Conference. Here is a condensed version of some of their comments.

Jeff Warrack, National Cattle Feeders Association past chair, on working together:

“We’ve been criticized in the past for being fragmented as an industry. We’ve got to start connecting along the various segments in this beef industry. The strategy is pretty ambitious, but to me, that’s the No. 1 thing we have to start to do. One of the things that we’ve done in that direction is the establishment of this beef advisers’ committee.

“What we’ve boiled it down to is that we need to focus on some key areas — like labour recruitment and retention, emergency preparedness, social licence to operate, and the sharing of information through the chain.

“We’re asking people to keep investing, and we need to make sure we target these investments appropriately, and we’re also making sure that these investments are targeting their desired outcomes. This is also part of the role of the beef advisers.”

Dave Solverson, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association president, on competitiveness

“We need to make sure that we have a regulatory environment in Canada that does not burden us. In order for the industry to be competitive, it’s necessary to have that regulatory system that supports the industry, encourages innovation and efficiency and doesn’t add unnecessary costs. The current federal government’s focus on regulatory reform is positive for our industry. They have a one-for-one approach now where one regulation is removed for every new regulation introduced. We support that, and we will be holding them to that if we can. The government’s current focus on regulatory reform is a significant step to producing more industry competitiveness moving forward.

“The strategy will also address regulatory co-operation with our major trading partners, which is also essential to the future and competitiveness of our industry. The reduction of regulatory barriers would not only have benefits to the cost of production, but it could also result in enhanced food safety, and animal health. This is about the relative cost of our inputs, so the prices we pay are not artificially inflated by our regulations. It’s a cumbersome approval process we have, and the lack of access to new and more innovative products has held us back in the past. Some of the changes in Bill C-18 should give us more access to products.

It’s very important that we have access to those competitively priced inputs.”

David Bolduc, Canadian Beef Breeds Council president, on productivity and efficiency

“In the purebred sector of our industry, it’s very exciting. Never before have we had the tools to improve the cattle that influence every segment of this industry so much. This strategy has a set of benchmarks to get to an improvement of 15 per cent in production in the next five years. I think a significant amount of this increase in production will be generated by the seed stock sector in improvements in genetics. The main area of improvement is going to come from genomic evaluation, and our ability to evaluate these cattle for what they have. It’s far beyond what we’ve seen in the past.

“Projects that will make a difference include bovine respiratory disease research. Essentially, we’re going to be able to genomically select cattle that have a resistance to BRD. This could be significant from a feedlot perspective and could result in a huge reduction of antimicrobial use. This will be acceptable to consumers, since it relies on natural selection at an accelerated pace. So much of this technology will put our industry in a sustainable light.

“We’re also looking at things like feed efficiency, which will have a tremendous economic impact. The big challenges include education and adoption of this technology and this is going to take funding. Already, we’re seeing increases in the purebred industry of membership fees.”

Tim Oleksyn, Beef Cattle Research Council chair, on research benefits

“We’ve had some real value by having a national beef research strategy. Provincial, federal and even global governments have supported this document and the organizations in it, and this has led to taking some leadership and moving things forward in a collaborative nature.

“The strategy will help us prioritize. There are so many decisions made by researchers on an ongoing basis, and research touches so many things in the strategy, like the expansion of the productivity demand and how we move forward on that, to the forages and grains efficiencies. It also touches on the need for information on antimicrobials, and dealing with the food safety aspects.

“Our role is to identify brilliance among groups of people and get those collaborations going and moving forward to help with the demand side and increase productivity.

“Right now, we’re at this tipping point where we can really move things forward, in terms of decision-making and data collection and where it ties in with social licensing and the ability to transfer information.”

Jack Hextall, Canada Beef Inc. chair, on consumers and checkoffs

“Everyone knows that consumers make choices based on many things, including loyalty. We’re not the only protein choice out there and we’re not the only beef choice out there. An aligned industry can help us meet consumer expectations of confidence, and expectations of how our beef is produced, raised and sold across the country.

“It’s also about creating a good, consistent experience. Consistency means that we do what’s right every time and that can be taste, or buying experience or education, etc.

“Demand for beef is high and growing in international markets. We need to align our industry to achieve greater successes in all sectors, to capitalize on growing beef demand around the world, and increase the cut-out value.

“To be sustainable, we all have to be profitable, and that collaborates to help sustain demand. “Achieving the goals identified in the national plan are estimated to require a checkoff investment of approximately $19 million, or $2.50 per head, which is a $1.50 increase from the current $1 national checkoff. Checkoff dollars trigger significant investments at both the national and provincial level. If industry isn’t at the table, then why would anyone else want to be there with their money as well? It really boils down to an investment in our own future.”

About the author

Reporter

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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