Beef industry report almost tells the whole story

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An agricultural think-tank called the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI) has released a study on the direction of the cattle industry and its future ramifications. The future it seems doesn’t look all that promising, since the study brings to light some of the inherent weakness and challenges of the present industry.

The study, which was partially financed by the Alberta Meat and Livestock Agency, is not the first study about the realities of the cattle and beef industry in Canada, but it is more up front and direct than most past efforts. The problem it has — as do most such studies — is will it be taken seriously and acted upon, or will it be filed away in that place were so many other well-meaning studies end up?

The study, in a tactful way, hints at the need for different leadership in the cattle industry to face the marketing reality and to take some dramatic steps. That no doubt ruffled some feathers within the ranks of many existing cattle producer and beef industry groups. Those folks figure they already are the leadership. The report tries to dodge that reaction by suggesting various initiatives need champions to carry them out. It’s not clear where those champions are to come from, nor who will pay for their time and effort, never mind the lack of power such champions would have outside the existing industry and government leadership establishment.

One suspects that the authors were treading carefully on the issue of industry leadership that got us to where we are now, and who should lead us to marketing salvation. One hesitates to suggest a followup study, but it would seem pertinent in this case to suggest who and what kind of leadership it will take to redirect the cattle and beef industry. Such a study would need a critical review of the present leadership structure, along with robust, honest and courageous recommendations to establish the effective leadership needed to carry out the study initiatives.

That won’t be easy considering the political nature of the industry. The primary production, feeding, processing, and the retail marketing sectors of the industry have been mutually antagonistic since the beginnings of the business. That’s evolved into a baffling political structure based on self-interest. Some years ago a report noted that in Alberta there were 26 organizations, committees, agencies, advisory councils, roundtables and myriad other ad hoc groups of every stripe all claiming to represent cattle producers and the beef industry.

That doesn’t help industry unity and many are sensitive to any threat to their turf or leadership. That’s the biggest hurdle, so a study that would give the industry a clear road map as to how to resolve industry disunity is the real first step. If that can be done the rest will be easy.

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