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Comment: Reading the National Beef Strategy

The beef industry faces more than its fair of challenges these days. From public perception about beef’s impact on the environment and health to labour shortages to pending regulatory changes around traceability and transportation, you all have your hands full. At the same time, new technology and the disruption to pork production overseas are opportunities the industry needs to capitalize on.

These are a few of the issues contained in the first few pages of the Canadian Beef Advisors’ recently released National Beef Strategy for 2020-2024, which is a successor to the last five-year national strategy.

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The Canadian Beef Advisors consists of people from the seven national beef organizations, including the Canadian Beef Check-off Agency, the Beef Cattle Research Council, Canada Beef, the Canadian Beef Breeds Council, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, the Canadian Meat Council, the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef and the National Cattle Feeders’ Association.

The strategy provides guidance to the national organizations on the big issues and helps them co-ordinate and use resources more effectively. The advisors invited input last fall through surveys as well as presentations at producer meetings. Provincial associations also advised them on which objectives to keep, revise, and what to add. The Canadian Beef Advisors took that input, drafted the latest strategy, sent it back to the provincial associations for review, and have now finalized and released it.

The Canadian Beef Advisors have organized the strategy around four main sections, or pillars, including beef demand, competitiveness, productivity and connectivity. There is too much information in that report for me to have any hope of covering thoroughly in this column, so I will focus on the youth involvement and succession information, which falls under the competitiveness pillar.

The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council reported nearly 41,000 people working in primary production in the beef industry in 2014, the strategy notes. Primary production covers everything from cow-calf to feedlots. More than 40 per cent of producers reported a worker shortage, and overall there were 3,500 jobs that went unfilled. That cost the industry lost sales ($141 million), and 35 per cent of producers delayed or cancelled expansion plans.

In the next 10 years, nearly one in three workers in the beef industry is expected to retire, which is above the overall Canadian agriculture average of 27 per cent. Jokes about ranchers never retiring aside, this means that there is likely going to be a big transfer to the next generation. And, as the report notes, the industry will also have to recruit young people from “general society,” as well as immigrants.

Much of the strategy focuses on working with the Young Cattlemen’s Council and Cattlemen’s Young Leaders (CYL) Mentorship program, as well as the youth development programs at the breed associations. For example, objectives include co-ordinating communication around job advocacy, approved advocacy projects and social media efforts with the Young Cattlemen’s Council, and empowering the Young Cattlemen’s Council to provide input into the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association policy direction. The advisors also recommend putting 88 “beef enthusiasts” through the CYL program by 2024.

The strategy document also recommends advocating for financial lending options for new entrants and communicating those options to the industry. It suggests creating a program to help young producers with succession planning.

There’s also a communications component to this section. For example, the strategy recommends creating “good news stories” to encourage young producers to start succession planning and giving producers a platform to talk about their succession planning experiences. The advisors want to see 200 graduates through the Beef Advocacy Canada media training module by 2024, and want to get more young leaders advocating for the industry through promotional videos and talking face-to-face with the public.

Engaging the next generation of beef producers is an issue we’re trying to tackle at Canadian Cattlemen as well, so I was quite interested in reading what the Canadian Beef Advisors penned on this issue. We, too, have more stories about succession planning on the list. My editorial ponderings go beyond an occasional succession planning story — I want to publish stories that connect with readers of all stages.

Of course, technology has been a major disruptor in the media industry. We are not immune to that disruption, but so far it has fallen more gently on this magazine than some others. It’s hard to know what the future will bring, but then again, Canadian Cattlemen has survived several decades so far, and I’m optimistic that we can keep adapting.

“In the cattle industry, the successes of the present and future innovations are often closely linked to past experience,” Mona Howe wrote in her story on Chancey Guichon and the James Hargrave Legacy Foundation.

I’ve been thinking about that sentence lately, as it seems to capture so much about this industry; the focus on both tradition and progress and the need for a strong foundation to build on. I think it applies to Canadian Cattlemen as well. I think we have a strong base, thanks to the work of so many who have been involved in the magazine over the years. I hope now we can keep evolving to meet the needs of our readers. If you have any ideas for what you’d like to see or how we should reach more producers, please shoot me an email, call or wave me down at an industry event.

About the author

Editor

Lisa Guenther is the editor of Canadian Cattlemen. You can follow her on Twitter @LtoG.

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