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Opinion: Why the cattle checkoff should rise

Canada’s beef industry has a bright future but innovation is key and costly — and the 
current levy simply isn’t enough

As cattle producers, you and I have been helping to fund Canadian beef research since 2002 by paying checkoff every time we sell an animal.

The work that’s been done with that money has benefited the industry as a whole and at the individual farm level because of the information and innovations that come as a result. Now we’re being asked to contribute more of our dollars.

To explain why, I need to back up and give you some background.

In 2014, industry leaders spent a lot of time working together to put existing national and provincial beef groups’ strategies down on paper in a single document. They did that to compare notes, to demonstrate how they were rowing in the same direction, and to look for gaps or more opportunities they could work on that would help the Canadian beef industry be more successful more quickly.

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That document is called the National Beef Strategy. It lays out a collaborative business plan to use combinations of research, marketing and promotion, policy development and stakeholder engagement to increase production efficiencies; reduce cost disadvantages compared to main competitors; increase carcass cut-out values; enhance synergies within industry; and connect positively with consumers, the public, government, and partner industries.

Two forces nudged the industry groups into documenting and fleshing out a formal strategy.

First is that with cattle numbers being down across much of the world and demand for high-quality protein increasing in most developing nations, our industry now has a huge opportunity ahead of us to supply that growing demand and we don’t want to miss it.

Second, between inflation and fewer cattle numbers, the industry has fewer dollars to work with and those dollars aren’t stretching as far as they once did.

There has been a $1-per-head national levy on the sale of every live animal in Canada since 2002. It funds research as well as market development and promotion of Canadian beef. That national levy, called The Canadian Beef Cattle Check-off, needs to be $2.50 per head if we’re going to accomplish the objectives in the National Beef Strategy.

There is firm support from provincial cattle associations. Each province has its own unique processes with their respective members and governments, but most provinces will be collecting the increased $2.50 Canadian Beef Cattle Check-off by the end of 2018. When it comes to deciding how much of the checkoff is spent on research or marketing, each province decides that for itself.

Right now, the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) receives an average of 18 cents from the $1 national checkoff ($1,288,478 last year). We use your money to leverage additional investments in beef research from governments.

That’s an important point. Government doesn’t issue cheques without clear proof that the research programs it’s being asked to support are very important to industry. Ponying up our own cash is the necessary clear proof.

When you look at the National Beef Strategy, you see that some of the goals are to validate and enhance the Canadian Beef Advantage; increase, maintain and enhance consumer confidence; address social licence issues; increase productivity through investments in genetic selection, research and development, technology development, and extension; and support long-term competitiveness through investments in new and priority research capacity, and priority research to support long-term industry sustainability.

The BCRC is responsible for helping to achieve those. To do the work needed to help achieve them, the BCRC needs annual funding of $11.8 million. Therefore, the BCRC is proposed to get 75 cents of the $2.50-per-head national checkoff, (about $4 million of industry funding each year).

The BCRC can use that industry money to leverage the additional funding needed by applying to federal and provincial government partners, as well as industry stakeholders like other checkoff groups, NGOs, and supply chain stakeholders.

Why is it necessary to do more work than we already are and achieve those goals?

Because food demand in Canada and around the world is expected to continually grow but we don’t have any more agriculture resources (like land) to use. More research and development is needed so that we can continue improvements that allow our industry to produce more product with fewer resources, while staying competitive globally and competitive with other agricultural commodities.

Bryan Thiessen manages Namaka Farms near Strathmore. A longer version of this article with examples of recent research projects and priority areas can be found at www.beefresearch.ca.

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