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Alberta Opens The Vault — Again

And puts a noose around funding for national beef programs

The playing field tilted toward Alberta again late last month when provincial Agriculture Minister George Groeneveld introduced a bill to turn the Alberta beef, hog and lamb checkoffs into refundable levies on April 1, 2010. This has implications for the entire cattle industry as Alberta contributes the lion’s share of the funds that pay for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, the Beef Information Centre, the Canada Beef Export Federation, producer-funded research, and legal bills to combat trade actions launched by U. S. producer groups.

Given the current climate it seems a safe bet to assume those funds will shrink considerably next April given that the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association is one of the groups who actively lobbied Groeneveld for a refundable checkoff.

The end result will be an almost certain increase in the Balkanization between the provinces. While national spending goes down, Groeneveld seems confident the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA) will offset the impact of any drop in checkoff funding in his province. The week before the checkoff announcement ALMA was beefed up with the power to dispense $30 million in grants in 2009-2010.

This type of spending authority normally rests with governments. The fact that Alberta has given it to an arm’s-length agency run by individuals from private industry further demonstrates the importance the minister places on ALMA.

It certainly gives the agency some pretty big carrots with which to remould Alberta’s livestock industry in Groeneveld’s vision of a survivable model for tough times — more value-added, more diversified, more export oriented.

The five new funding programs announced last month give us a more complete picture of Mr. Groeneveld’s vision of the future.

$ 6 million for international market development. Grants of up to $1 million to Alberta agencies, companies or producers groups to pay half the bills to conduct market research, create marketing plans, develop new meat products, design better packages and labels for export products and organize retail and food service promotions.

$2 million to expand and diversify value-added markets for Alberta livestock products in Canada. Grants up to $500,000 are available to cover half the market development expenses.

$12 million for basic and applied research. To get the money researchers must come up with projects that target ALMA’s priorities and improve profitability in the industry either by offering solutions to current challenges in animal care, environmental management and animal health, food safety, cost reduction, product differentiation or simply increase the knowledge base of the industry. Research grants can also be combined with other ALMA grants. Development projects like a feed grains centre of excellence or improved production, animal health and food safety practices would likely make it onto the short list for funding. The money can be used to hire researchers and pay grad student bursaries. It may only be a one-year package but it is big enough to get the creative juices flowing in every research centre within Alberta. $5 million to sharpen the competitiveness of the Alberta livestock sector. Up to a $1 million is available to cost-share projects that enhance the viability of the industry. It could be innovative communications to stimulate consumer awareness and increase public confidence in meat products. It could be funds for groups that focus on improving leadership skills or dealing with consumers on behalf of livestock producers. $5 million for on-farm technology adaptation. This is the one program aimed directly at producers. ALMA will pay 20 per cent of the capital costs and half the soft costs such as training, travel and consultants needed to adopt new technology. Again the main criteria are anything that creates a profitable and sustainable future for livestock producers in Alberta. The maximum grant is $1 million so they are willing to look at big projects.

These are only the ALMA grants. The Alberta/ Canada Growing Forward program has money for a whole range of complimentary programs in the area of bio-security, management and entrepreneurial training, energy savings, food safety, leadership, animal welfare and product and market development programs.

The common thread here is the money is only available in Alberta, and only for one year. Time will tell if these funds will be renewed next year, right when Mr. Groeneveld’s new law is turning down the taps on funds for those national programs that are meant to benefit producers right across the country.

About the author

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Gren Winslow

Gren Winslow is a past editor of Canadian Cattlemen.

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