This month we converge as a national beef industry and acknowledge the men and women who make this business exceptional.
As this is my 100th time penning this column it brings me great joy to “thank you” for the commitment and vibrancy that each of you brings to the table. Such competencies are featured throughout the entire production and processing chain from beginning farmer to packer, from 4-H to multidisciplinary scientist, by way of rural communities through to global interactions, and from our supporting friends in other sectors and government.
At the beginning of our journey nearly a decade ago, the first column featured an overarching commentary on the direction of the industry and areas of intersection that defined the Canadian beef industry. I have included much of the content of that column today so we can register our success over the past decade. It also may highlight those areas that still need addressing — tasks that require the talent of our youth and the employment of creative thought.
- More ‘Straight from the hip’ with Brenda Schoepp: The interrelationship in animal protein
“It is a truth that the land base we use for food production is finite, and in today’s world, is expected to meet both agricultural and societal needs. It is not enough at this juncture to focus on mere agricultural sustainability. Not only is that practice eventually terminal but it does not address shifts in societies’ perceived needs.
“It is the earth and not the sky that is our limit.”
This reversal in ideology brings to light the convergence of urban and rural thought, as all cultures begin to recognize the finite world of food production. The push to grow more is exhaustive in terms of resources and in terms of controlling interests. As we now live in a world of transparency, our practises and partnerships are under the public lens. The beef industry has done a great job informing the public on GHG emissions and farming practices but there are unresolved issues for the environment and animal welfare.
“The Canadian beef industry’s first challenge is to come together and to emerge united as a world leader in production, processing and marketing through a system that is driven by research and innovation. The model must allow the industry to maintain efficiencies while being globally competitive. That is asking for a lot of freedoms and also implies a tremendous responsibility. Yet, not only does this create the opportunity to take Canadian beef out of the commodity market, or out of the box, so to speak, it also has a trickle-down effect to the beef production economy and that is what producers are really looking for.”
The reactive culture of the Canadian industry to defend conventionally produced beef has been at a cost, and does not invite creative solutions to the table or open exclusive markets. Without a holistic view that appreciates the desires and potential of those outside conventional production there may always be a cultural divide. There is no right or wrong way to produce beef. The questions are: Do you want to sell beef and who do you want to sell it to? The reality is that organic, natural, grass-fed and humane labels all sell and sell well. The challenge for the industry is to build a culture that is inclusive of these avenues and the people who are proponents.
“I suggest the beef industry accept the responsibility for fostering the concept that knowledge is a high-value commodity. Beef must communicate its value to society so it can be supportive of land use and practices, processing, research and development and higher learning.”
Realistically, no industry has the legal or ethical right to tell folks what to eat. This presents an opportunity to look at our consumer as our partner in the story of this amazing protein source. Taking both a systems (where all things are related) and multidisciplinary (where all things are considered) approach refreshes the discussion. Industry can take the lead by carefully considering our partners. The challenge is to not predetermine the outcome.
“There is no substitute for good science. At every point in the beef production chain there is an opportunity for advancement through innovative approaches and good science. But it is of limited value if not part of a plan that sees increased market access and builds the knowledge, skills and capabilities of the people through the entire beef cattle and beef industry.”
Our partnerships define us and as the beef industry moves forward we must continue to broaden the scope of our knowledge and our quest for innovative answers for all sectors to ensure their growth. As major processors now look at non-animal proteins and the intersections between human and animal welfare become more clearly defined, and as trade changes and processing advances under federal encouragement, the industry stands at an opportune time to fully embrace a multitude of scientific quests and address the volatility that discourages further investment.
“Finally, it is of great importance that the industry be regenerated and healthy to the point that it attracts reinvestment of the private sector back into agricultural research and innovation (and) investors, new entrants, and partners.”
Let us celebrate our greatest asset — human capital. The number of educated young entrants is growing; 80,000 Canadian women registered as farmers in the last census. Social-media savvy children are getting involved in the industry at a much younger age engaging the public in beef-related stories. The very foundation of Canadian agriculture and of the beef industry is being transformed by our youth. For your future and mine we must let them lead.