The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) was out in force at the Five Nations Beef Alliance (FNBA) annual meeting, which brings together cattle producer leaders from Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. Joining me on the mid-October trip were CCA past-president Martin Unrau, executive vice-president Dennis Laycraft and director international and government affairs John Masswohl. CCA’s youth mentorship program, Cattlemen’s Young Leaders (CYL), was also represented, with program co-ordinator Jolene Noble and CYL’s Stuart Somerville (Alberta) and Brett McRae (Manitoba) seizing the opportunity to observe the leaders of the global beef industry at work formulating policy.
Hosted by the Alliance’s U.S. member, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), the meeting included tours of various Texas cattle operations ahead of the two-day conference to discuss issues of common interest. I have been to Texas a few times, but had not seen much except hotels, airports and meeting rooms. This time I participated in the tour and saw for myself where the Canadian industry is at a competitive disadvantage, and in many cases where I believe it has a clear advantage.
For instance, the famous King Ranch is in a part of Texas that is in an environment prone to drought. The 825,000-acre ranch has been very innovative in its management practices over its 150-year history and is the birthplace of the Santa Gertrudis and Santa Cruz breeds, crosses of Bos Indicus — important for heat and tick tolerance — and Bos Taurus, like the British breeds raised in Canada.
Like King Ranch, McFaddin Enterprises Ltd., a fifth-generation ranch operated by NCBA president Bob McCan, battles frequent drought and constantly fights the costly invasion of mesquite brush and noxious weeds.
One competitive advantage these operations have is that they lease substantial tracts of land for recreational hunting opportunities. In my view Canada’s distinct advantage is its cooler environment and rich soils which allow us to use more productive Bos Taurus genetics.
Throughout the tours much emphasis was placed on managing pasture for grazing as well as conserving feed and habitat for wildlife. One interesting aspect that resonated with Canadians on the tour was that Texas feedlots provide protection from the sun instead of the wind like back home.
After stops at interesting and diverse parts of the U.S. beef supply chain we got down to business of the FNBA meeting. Updates from members painted an interesting picture: North America is experiencing record high cattle markets as our herds have contracted over the last decade because of widespread drought and competition for acres from profitable cash crops and in Canada’s case, market access problems. Australia is having to liquidate much of their herd because of drought and their producers are not enjoying anywhere near North American prices. New Zealand’s beef industry is becoming a byproduct of the dairy industry, with 1.8 dairy cows per beef cow.
Brett Stuart, a global market specialist with the U.S.-based Cattlefax, spoke of the tremendous global demand for protein and of the need to produce more food in the next 50 years than has been grown in the last 7,000 years. He talked about actions of governments around the world and how they often distort information, like China’s corn pricing policy, (US$10.20/bu.) which is causing mass liquidation of pigs. My take-away from his report is that Canada’s beef producers should have many good years ahead, and that it will be very important to position ourselves to access the world.
The conference concluded with a unanimous agreement from the FNBA for a united stand for an ambitious outcome in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. A statement was issued by the FNBA calling for TPP leaders and their negotiators to secure “gold standard” outcomes for beef. This means: elimination of tariffs (without exclusion); no trade-distorting restrictions (quotas) or safeguards; clear disciplines for non-tariff barriers to trade; liberal rules of origin; trade-facilitating regulatory systems and international science-based standards. The statement reaffirms FNBA’s previous statements on TPP and urges TPP negotiators to strive for the high level of ambition envisaged by TPP leaders in 2011. This co-ordinated advocacy is having an influence on other industries.
Alliance members discussed their efforts on sustainability, an area in which I believe Canada is well ahead of the pack, and avenues to pursue to ensure the politicizing of science is stopped.
The FNBA is represented by CCA, NCBA, the Cattle Council of Australia, Confederación Nacional de Organizaciones Ganaderas, and Beef + Lamb New Zealand. Together, FNBA represents producers from countries that account for one-third of global beef production and approximately half of global beef exports.
Paraguay (Asociacion Rural del Paraguay), and ACRIMAT (Associacao dos Criadores de Mato Grosso) representing the Mato Grosso region of Brazil also attended. Both were accepted as observers and could be considered for full membership in the alliance next year.
Canada’s competitive advantage over these regions is that they are landlocked and our infrastructure is superior. They have market power concerns as well. Canada’s situation is much more competitive with two major packers in the west and live cattle exports to the U.S. We must do all we can to maintain and improve this environment. I would like to thank NCBA for hosting a very productive meeting.