To be known in beef industry circles as Dan Darling, vice-president and now president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), is a privilege, Darling acknowledges. To be known in his hometown area around Castleton, Ont., and at cattle shows as Dan Darling, dad of Carolyn, Julie and Margaret, is an honour.
“I think I get my energy from them,” says Darling, who started wearing these two hats about 14 years ago when he was first elected as a zone representative to the Ontario Cattlemen’s Association, now Beef Farmers of Ontario. He became one of Ontario’s representatives to the CCA in 2007 and continued on to serve as BFO president in 2012 and 2013. This month he is in line to become the president of the CCA at their annual meeting in Ottawa.
“I was tired of hearing guys complain about how things should or shouldn’t be done and thought I could help, but never thought it would take me this far. There was just something about working with fellow producers, industry groups and governments toward the same end goals that got to me,” he says.
Of course, handling all of the commitments and meetings wouldn’t have been possible without the full support of his wife, Mary, their children, and his brother, Van, who is a partner in the mixed farm they bought from their parents 32 years ago.
Darling Farms grows corn, soybean, and wheat for grain, as well as forages to feed their 250 Limousin-based cow herd and backgrounding the calves to about 900 pounds.
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A lot of their calves sell to feeders aligned with the highly successful Ontario Corn-Fed Beef program, an initiative of the Ontario Cattle Feeders Association. The corn-fed beef protocols for cattle management are similar to those of the Verified Beef Production program, in which Darling Farms has participated since the program was first introduced.
Dan’s family was drawn to purebreds as the girls became involved in 4-H and in 2010, started building their own purebred Limousin herd separate from the partnership with his brother. He and his brother had tested the potential for adding a purebred Limousin herd to the operation about 20 years ago, but soon found out that all of the paperwork involved in registering cattle was too time-consuming in combination with of all of the other jobs on the farm.
Now at 19 years of age, Carolyn handles most of the registration work and, with her dad’s inclination for beef politics, is involved with the Canadian Junior Limousin Association. Julie, 14, has an aptitude for politics as well. She was selected to serve as a page for one of the Ontario legislature’s sittings last year, which happened to last three months.
Darling is happy with the decision to expand into purebreds and expand the commercial herd by retaining and selling bred heifers.
“There was quite a period with prices so low that quite a few producers exited, maybe because of age, but many because they just didn’t think there would be much of a future in it. From going to industry meetings, I could see it was going to change around quickly because of the shrinking cattle numbers and a growing population that wants protein. I could see the upside and future in beef,” Darling says.
It was a forecast he readily shared with others and definitely breathed a sigh of relief when it turned out to be right on the mark.
“Fortunately prices are up and cow-calf producers are making money. Now, we need to make sure prices stay up and we need our feeders and packers to do well, too. The way to do that is to get our beef into more countries.”
Trade is a high priority for the CCA and he puts it at the top of his wish list for his two-year term as CCA president beginning as of the March annual general meeting.
2015 ended on a high note, Darling says, with the repeal of the U.S. mandatory country-of-origin labelling law.
Then the new year got off to a promising start with outgoing CCA president Dave Solverson, accompanying the federal minister of international trade, Chrystia Freeland, to New Zealand to stand alongside 11 other founding countries to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement on February 4.
“It’s a fantastic trade partnership for our beef because for one, it will mean Japanese tariffs on Canadian beef will drop from 38.5 per cent to nine per cent over the next 15 years. It means real money to producers because there is demand in the other countries for beef products not in high demand here,” Darling explains.
If the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the 28 countries of the European Union is any indication, it will take time for governments in all countries to ratify the TPP agreement and work out the technical requirements to actually implement it.
Technical talks for the beef sector started shortly after the CETA was signed in principle in October 2013, when it was speculated that the agreement would take about two years to come into force. By the time the final text was released in September 2014, the CCA projected it would be late 2016 or into 2017 before that would happen. The main outstanding technical issues in the beef talks have to do with packing-plant processes that are supported by scientific research and approved in Canada, but not in the EU.
In addition to seeing the CETA through, Darling says there’s still work to be done on opening markets that remain closed or restricted dating back to May 2003, when the first case of BSE in a Canadian-born animal was detected. Mexico is an example of an important market that still doesn’t allow imports of bone-in beef from animals over 30 months of age.
“We have built good partnerships with our fellow producers in Mexico and the U.S., and their associations, that have really worked out well for us, and we certainly want to continue to do that as well,” he adds.
Settling the movement-tracking file on traceability is also at the top of the CCA to-do list.
“The government has been talking about this for so long that it’s time to decide if we are going to implement it or not because producers don’t know where they stand or what’s coming next. In 2011, everyone from across Canada and all parts of the industry came out of the traceability meeting in Saskatchewan with former agriculture minister Ritz, in agreement thinking we had a way to go on it, but the bureaucrats have decided they want something different. Personally, I think we need to move on it because Canada is second only to Australia on traceability and other countries are asking for it, but we really need to right the ship on this to make sure it’s manageable at the ground level.”
Darling says the CCA has so many good and important things on the go, making it difficult to comment on only a few.
As an avid advocate for youth in agriculture during his time with the Ontario association and with the CCA, one relatively new initiative he is particularly proud of is the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders program that continues to be highly successful under the guidance of two young CCA employees, Jill Harvie and Jolene Noble.
“I have learned so much from the young people who come to the CAA as staff and representatives. They are so driven and knowledgable about the industry that I’m almost in awe of their intelligence. There’s no doubt, the future of the beef industry is in good hands,” Darling says.