Over the past several months, COVID-19 has shown us that we have an innovative and resilient food system and has also identified where enhancements are needed. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten the future of families who raise beef cattle across Canada. It is also important to look at the impacts through a conservation lens, as we are caretakers of the environment around them.
In early June, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) hosted a special presentation titled “Feeding the Future: COVID-19 impacts to the beef industry increase risk for Canada’s native grasslands,” where representatives from Canadian conservation groups and academia discussed the impacts of losing beef farmers and ranchers due to the hardships brought on by COVID-19, which extend past the economy and our food system.
During this informative discussion, it was very apparent that conservation groups recognized the critical role that beef production plays in the preservation of Canada’s most at-risk ecosystems and that we are an important conservation partner.
The fate of Canada’s grasslands, and plants and wildlife that call them home, are threatened by the challenges being experienced by Canadian beef producers. It is possible we could lose up to 15 per cent of our beef farming families in the next year due to the financial pressures from processing backlogs and weakened markets.
This is not the first time that economic hardships experienced by our industry have resulted in negative environmental consequences. The bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) crisis led to a rapid acceleration in the loss of grasslands, wetlands and other habitats. Canada lost 26,917 ranching operations between 2001-11 and five million acres of grasslands as a result of the impacts of BSE. With the uncertainty our industry is experiencing today, this is especially concerning since less than 20 per cent of the grasslands in the Northern Great Plains remain intact.
Canadian beef producers protect and conserve some of the most important habitat we have in Canada. The important benefits of grassland stewardship that result from a healthy beef industry are often overlooked and misunderstood. CCA, through the Public and Stakeholder Engagement Program, has undertaken initiatives, such as the “Guardians of the Grasslands” mini-documentary, to help improve public trust in beef production and correct misconceptions about the environmental impacts of our industry.
Another important way that we recognize and communicate the commitment of beef producers to sustainable production practices is through The Environmental Stewardship Award (TESA). Since 1996, CCA has proudly celebrated the great initiatives undertaken by Canadian beef producers to protect and enhance the environment though TESA — and this year is no different. For 24 years, this award has recognized and honoured beef farmers and ranchers who investigate innovative ways to include conservation and environmental stewardship as a fundamental part of their business.
All nominees receive provincial recognition from their peers for their outstanding initiatives and contributions. These recipients can move forward as nominees for national recognition from the CCA.
The calibre of this year’s nominees, from Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia highlights the incredible commitment made by Canadian beef farmers and ranchers to care for their cattle, their land, the environment and wildlife that inhabit these areas.
We commend this year’s nominees — Paul De Jong, Ontario; Felicity and Thomas Hagan, Manitoba; Deer Creek Ranch, Alberta; and Ricky and Chad Seelhof, B.C. — for their efforts to share key learnings and innovations in conservation and environmental stewardship with neighbours in their communities.
This year’s TESA recipient was announced virtually on August 12 during this year’s Canadian Beef Industry Conference (CBIC). On behalf of the CCA board of directors and staff, congratulations to Ricky and Chad Seelhof and their three children, Riata, Cooper and Renee, who own and operate Woodjam Ranch near Horsefly, B.C.
The Seelhof Family runs a 500-head black Angus cow-calf operation on 2,120 acres of cultivated and native rangeland in association with 80,000 acres of Crown grazing license area. The ranch lies adjacent to the Horsefly River and has 16 tributary creeks running through it. Ensuring those waterways maintain their health is a priority. The Seelhofs focus on planting a lot of willow, and work on stream bank restoration to prevent flooding and stream bank erosion. To this ranch family, it’s all about shouldering the responsibility to steward the land.
We look forward to hosting the Seelhof family as well as the 2021 TESA nominees at next year’s CBIC in Penticton from August 17 to 19.
Our industry has much to celebrate when it comes to sustainability and conservation. We encourage producers from coast to coast to consider nominating operations that exemplify an unwavering commitment to conservation and protecting the environment around them for next year’s TESA. We will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of TESA and it would be a great achievement to have nominees representing each province or region across Canada. Stay tuned for future updates on the nomination process in Action News and on CCA’s social media channels.