In the late 1800s it took three to five years for forage-finished cattle to reach market weight and condition. Since then, applied research, development and technology transfer by scientists and progressive cattle and beef producers has helped improve the efficiency and quality of Canadian production to the point that we have become one of the world’s leading producers of high-quality beef.
Today applied research continues to be a key component in improving the competitiveness of Canada’s cattle and beef industry relative to other beef-producing nations of the world.
Research helps the industry deal swiftly and effectively with emerging challenges. This doesn’t mean that every problem will be solved before it occurs, but industry support helps maintain the research infrastructure and expertise needed to respond when problems arise. Effective, science-based solutions that work for industry will help avoid undue regulation and maintain industry competitiveness.
Research to quantify and improve the animal health and welfare, environmental stewardship, safety and nutritional value of Canadian beef also helps Canada’s checkoff-funded marketing organizations, the Beef Information Center and Canada Beef Export Federation promote our product to domestic and international customers.
Federal and provincial governments contribute most of the funding to establish and maintain the facilities and staff needed to carry out applied beef research and technology transfer. Beef research is particularly expensive, which can make it a target of deficit-fighting measures. Recurring efforts to trim government spending has resulted in the closure of several research facilities, the loss of numerous research positions and the near loss of several important research programs. There has also been large cuts to extension activities. Given the shrinking resources dedicated to applied beef research, there was a need for industry to help prioritize, direct and fund applied beef research.
What is the Beef Science Cluster?
The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and the National Beef Value Chain Roundtable ordered a review of Canada’s beef research in 2007. It found that research funding was not only inadequate and declining but it was also fragmented, with at least 30 funding bodies involved who did not necessarily co-ordinate their activities or share their research priorities with each other. Support for agricultural extension to disseminate this new technology was also declining steadily. As a result, some important areas of research were being neglected, and work that did get funded was slow to be tested and adopted.
The Beef Science Cluster is the first step in addressing these problems. The cluster is a four-year partnership between the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). It is a way for Canada’s largest industry and the federal and provincial governments to invest in priorities and activities that provide the greatest and most immediate benefit to Canada’s cattle and beef industry. The Honourable Gerry Ritz, minister of agriculture and agri-food, offi-cially announced Phase I of the Beef Science Cluster at the CCA’s annual meeting in Ottawa. Over time, it is hoped that the cluster partnership can expand and work closely with other industry and provincial organizations that fund beef research in Canada.
The Beef Science Cluster has two main research priorities.
Improve production efficiencies: Approximately two-thirds of beef cluster funding is directed towards projects designed to reduce the cost of producing high-quality cattle and beef in Canada.
Forage and feed production, through perennial forage breeding and development and improving yields of swath grazed crops;
Increased feed efficiency, through genetics and feed management;
Animal health and welfare, focusing on Johne’s disease and animal health implications of feeding DDGS; and Investigating whether composting can inactivate BSE prions.
Improved beef demand: One-third of the funding is directed toward projects that will give domestic and international consumers more reasons to choose Canadian beef, more often.
Improved food safety through lactic acid sprays for beef trim, training new food safety researchers and studying whether feeding wheat DDGS affects E. coli 0157:H7 shedding;
Improved beef eating quality through a new national beef carcass audit and consumer satisfaction survey, advancing carcass classification and grading expertise and technology, and evaluating diet and management effects on the eating quality and nutritional value of beef.
How is the Beef Science Cluster funded? Producers contribute the five to 10 cents of the national checkoff dollar that is allocated to the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC). Alberta Beef Producers contributed an additional $500,000 to the cluster. Every research dollar put in by producers is matched by nearly $6 in government research funds. Most of the government funds are from AAFC’s Growing Forward program, with the Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario governments contributing to several specificluster projects.
For more information, see the BCRC website at
Reynold Bergen is the science director of the Beef Cattle Research Council .