The Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) became the first provincial cattle organization to officially declare its support for a $1.50 increase in the mandatory $1 national checkoff at its annual meeting last month in Calgary.
Given the vocal support for an increase reported at district meetings around the province leading up to an official vote by the delegates the result was not a surprise.
There was no drama, no debate, and no dissention. Alberta’s on board.
The national checkoff train moves next to Saskatchewan later this month, then Manitoba, Ontario and B.C. in May. These five supply most of the money, but this is a national checkoff so every province needs to express its views to maintain the national consensus.
The money raised by this new checkoff, some $16 million by official estimates, will fund the promotional and marketing work of Canada Beef and the industry’s share of research commissioned by the Beef Cattle Research Council.
The split of promotion versus research dollars varies quite a bit depending on where it’s collected. Provincial associations determine how much of the money they raise goes to each.
B.C., for example, allocates 90 per cent to promotion, Alberta 80 per cent and Saskatchewan 70 per cent with the rest to research. Manitoba gives 85.5 per cent to promotion, seven per cent to research and the rest to provincial projects.
In the East the accounting is a little more creative. Ontario’s $1, and presumably its $2.50, is split roughly 32 per cent to Canada Beef, 17 per cent to research and 50 per cent to provincial projects. Quebec sends 10 per cent to Canada Beef and keeps the rest for provincial initiatives. Maritime provinces maintain a split similar to Quebec except for Nova Scotia at two per cent for promotion, 10 per cent for research and the rest for the province.
The second money vote of the day was the standard request for ABP to lobby the provincial ag minister to reinstate Alberta’s non-refundable $2 service levy. This is the provincial checkoff that funds lobbying activities by the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) and the ABP plus any provincial projects the ABP has managed to maintain after the refundable levy came into force in 2010.
This time the ABP plans to recommend a $2 non-refundable levy with 60 cents directed to marketing, research and industry collaboration.
Rescinding refunds has been a regular request coming out of ABP meetings since former minister George Groeneveld dumped the non-refundable levy on them in 2010, but it has never gained much traction with any of the Conservative ag ministers up to now.
Would the NDP look more favourably on a fixed fee? The ABP intends to find out.
A more pertinent question might be, is this the right time to ask? The refund rate in Alberta is one of the reasons the industry is citing to justify a higher national checkoff to keep its marketing and research programs intact.
It might seem a little uncharitable to seek an end to the refunds in the same year.
In the past Alberta always had the money to back the CCA’s lobbying efforts in Washington or Geneva, as well as any shortfalls with national marketing programs. Since 2010 refunds have siphoned off upwards of $2.5 million a year, taking much of the slack out of the ABP’s budget.
Until recently some of those losses were picked up by the so-called Legacy Fund established in 2005 with $50 million from Ottawa and $30 million from the province to haul Alberta and the country out of the wreckage created by BSE.
The Legacy program and the money ran out last month, which is another reason why the industry is looking to raise the national fee.
Another concern for the ABP executive is the ill feelings created by the NDP’s hasty passage of Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act. Like most farm organizations the ABP tried to soften the impact of this legislation on its members with little result outside of an amendment to exclude family members from the legislation.
If nothing else the battle over Bill 6 demonstrated the ABP’s pressing need to develop new relationships with this government.
Obviously it isn’t the only organization feeling the void. In something of a landmark move Page Stuart, the chair of the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association submitted a resolution asking the ABP to continue working with the feeders to come up with a common plan for the Alberta industry. Given the past history between these two this is a significant effort to bury the hatchet. Meetings have been going on since October with discussions centred around sharing checkoff funds and finding ways for the two groups to work together and present a united voice on key issues. A document released by the cattle feeders made no reference to a non-refundable checkoff, but does say the “overall checkoff is a bigger issue than the checkoff refund.” c