From the hip Young leaders listened to advice from veterans, but there’s work to be done
For me, it was yet-another packed plane and one of many this spring but for the little girl across the aisle, this was her first flight. As the plane lifted she sang out “Oh… look! We can fly!” This sense of wonder charmed and captivated the entire group on the plane. It is this awe that we need to feel again in the beef industry.
The Cattlemen Young Leaders program (CYL) was the idea of a young Alberta woman, Jill Harvie, and has been administered through the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) and supported through industry sponsorship. The foundation of the program is mentorship. At the recent graduation for the CYL in Saskatoon, members of an industry panel summed up their experiences and passion for the beef industry, despite years in the business.
Jeff Bilow, market strategy manager for UFA, captured the essence of opportunity for leadership when he passionately exclaimed to the group, “I hear the voices and see the faces of the future of the industry.” He went on to remind the CYL graduates that Martin Luther King said “I have a dream,” and that he did not say “I have a goal.”
Most certainly the panel mirrored Bilow’s sentiment. Scott Wright, a director with Agriculture Canada, went further to add that one must “do what you do to make a difference and be passionate about it,” despite the huge challenge in the industry of connecting the dots between the players, and the lack of industry recognition.
Sandy Russell of Spring Creek agreed noting that while things are not perfect that in itself is a road to betterment: “We have of lot of inefficiencies in our business and opportunities to build on that.”
Martin Unrau, newly elected CCA president, knows how much work building a beef business, growing it and serving it can be. Good years or bad, he remains realistically optimistic and offered sage advice to those entering the industry. He said it was important to dig deeper into the business you are in and to be on all sides of it while willing to take some risk. Like most cattlemen he has seen that when the going gets tough, the tough get going and he urged the young leaders to never quit.
Rebuilding is a challenge
That said, the rebuilding of the beef industry is a huge challenge as we look to the future. Unrau was candid: “I think in the next five years we are going to see our industry move forward. We need to get our numbers up, deal with infrastructure, extra feedlot space and the threat of losing a packer.”
When it comes to broader issues such as climate change, Wright pondered the ability of the producer to adapt to the new variables. But for John McKinnon, Saskatchewan Beef Industry chair, it came down to facing production inefficiencies.
“We are still declining in numbers with an 80-85 per cent calf crop and a lack of management structure to bring that up. It is amazing how many producers do not know their cost of production.”
McKinnon also reminded the young leaders not to skip the basics, such as feed testing. “The capabilities exist; perhaps what is missing is the will to do it.”
A lack of willingness, perhaps born of apathy or lack of communication has been historically known to manifest itself in the beef industry. That being said, it is up to the movers and shakers to take responsibility and to attract new entrants. Unrau believes that innovation will attract new farmers, but it is a great attitude that keeps them there. And to fully appreciate our place in the industry we need to see the bigger picture. “We are not about Canada anymore — we are about a global market for protein,” he said. At the same time, meeting the needs of society while ensuring domestic supply all play into the complexity of the beef business. While the solutions are many sided, we have a choice. McKinnon reflected that during his life, his core values and beliefs sustained him and allowed him to make choices that were of benefit to the beef industry.
Collectively, the industry panel at this very special event reflected positive thinking and offered sound solutions to the future leaders in cattle business while travelling well into the future. It is by choice that the beef industry will sear its brand and make her mark on the global platform and it is through the youth of this day, such as the Cattlemen Young Leaders, that this will happen. Bilow, never losing his sense of wonder sums it up, “We will differentiate into something the world has never seen before!” Oh… look… we can fly!