Editorial: Straw man report challenges the industry to take action

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As promised the straw man process delivered its final recommendations in a report at the end of December entitled, “Building a Stronger Canadian Beef Industry.” Now it’s time for the industry to turn straw into gold. None of the straw man team may look like the gold-spinning Rapunzel, but they certainly have provided the right material to kick-start the process.

The underlying thrust to their recommendations (strawmanbeef.ca) is that they are doable, which is critical in keeping any process like this alive and moving forward. One shudders to think of the shelves filled with dusty reports on every aspect of agriculture that went nowhere simply because the goals were too vague and no action process was put into place. This report is clear-cut as to what to do next and who should be doing and when. That cleverly puts the impetus on every sector of the industry to participate, since anyone opposed to the process will be conspicuous by their absence.

To lead the process the report recommends the establishment of a “Council of Beef Leaders” and it includes all the players, except in my view, the one that if needed could keep the process moving forward with carrots and sticks. I cite the need for provincial/federal government participation. Understandably there are political optics involved with formal participation, but an unofficial presence is surely feasible. It wouldn’t be the first time government observers were kept in the loop.

The need for such participation is because governments hold the powers that can make or break this type of long-term industry-building process.

The report makes recommendations about funding the long-term process of industry development, and that invariably involves checkoff sensitivities. The straw men were wise to tackle this minefield right off the start. But the reality is that governments either plant the mines or are able to sweep the field clear for safe passage — it all depends on which side of the issue one resides. What would give this process a real push is if government formally supported the need for mandatory checkoffs to drive the recommendations and long-term development. If nothing else that would rattle the cynics and those who felt safe behind by the walls of the status quo.

Frankly, such a radical move would be enlightened indeed, in pushing a tradtionally minded industry into real action. I expect that with the checkoff sword hanging over their heads, many on the council would find the energy and courage to move the process forward.

It should be noted that the cattle and beef industries in competing countries like Australia and New Zealand seemed to have found a way to harness their mandatory checkoffs for the greater good. Surely the Canadian industry can find a way to learn from their experience.

Another recommendation was to move forward with BIXS 2.0. This is another doable action that can put a whole new underpinning to information flow. I expect there are few in the industry who do not support a superior flow of information up and down the chain. The amazing part is that virtually everyone can benefit from the flow. Surely the technology exists that can protect privacy, but the reality is that same technology can make the information even more valuable, and isn’t that what everyone wants? This is one recommendation that the industry and the council can actually carry out and right away. Just do it!

Another recommendation from the report points out the need for industry communication. That’s an issue that most organizations have grappled with for the past century and have yet to find the magic wand that can achieve that most elusive goal. The straw man team by accident or design (I suspect the latter) put together industry meetings in Toronto and Calgary that included reps from every sector and ideology. There is nothing like putting a big, diverse, sometimes grumpy family in a room and making them talk to each other over what they have in common. Heaven forbid, harmony and hope might just break out. That meeting process absolutely needs to continue.

As to putting together an industry communication plan that works — that’s easy. Many industry organizations and companies employ talented professional communication people. How about locking them all together with some ag ad agencies folks in a room and not letting them out until they come up with a plan? They have the incentive to come up with a scheme.

The cattle and beef industry needs to continue the momentum created by the straw man process. Sure other industry summits and roundtables have come and gone, few have much future except as gabfests. But they have served as a learning experience which has helped guide this process. One can’t help but notice that a number of agencies, companies and government sources have come forth to support this project with funding. There is a message in that support. Those folks believe in the future of the cattle and beef industry in this country and want to see it prosper and grow.

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