There are things that happen to industries that have a significant impact on how they succeed year in and year out. The beef industry struggled desperately in the wake of BSE and as it now climbs out of the doldrums it is important to recognize those things that helped create the transition and are going to play an integral part in shaping the future. Long-term success will mean embracing and adopting the game changers that ultimately stabilized the ship that wandered rudderless for the best part of a decade.
1. If one thing became painfully evident in the past eight years it is the tenuous position industries hold when fortunes are built on a single trading partner. While the U.S. will continue to be Canada s single biggest beef customer, it s now recognized that the greatest growth opportunities are in Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, mainland China, Southeast Asia and Russia. Exports to markets outside of the U.S. now account for 23 per cent of Canada s worldwide beef exports and that percentage must continue to grow. Japan has recently announced it will consider relaxing restrictions on North American beef imports and that s good news for everyone in the beef business.
2. Grazing systems are generally considered to be more benign than cropping systems in terms of their effect on the environment. Beef production does impact upon plants, soil, air and water, and needs resources like fuel to operate. It has been said that it takes many plants to make a stand, at least 50 cows to make a herd and a million drops to make a rain, and it s all linked to the environment. Environmental management in grazing beef production is going to be just as important to the future of the industry as is product quality and consistency, profitability and market access. Every spring when herds go to pasture, there has to be enough plant mass to support grazing. Success in the business depends on it being there year after year. Cattle producers must first be stewards of the resources entrusted to them. Texas beef specialist Rick Machen says natural resource stewardship is a responsibility, not an elective.
3. Beef production is a complex business. There s no substitute for a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship in assessing an individual herd s exposure to disease risk and developing a herd health plan tailored to control and prevent disease. A vaccination program alone is not a herd health plan. Effective herd health plans must incorporate a careful look a disease risk and risk assessment. Planning events like calving season and weaning involves the entire herd and looking at disease susceptibility by age group. Managing risk means clear, important biosecurity practices are in place: where and when to purchase, where to buy, what do I ask prior to purchase, how do I quarantine and isolate. Herd health plans effectively manage the use of vaccines and the prudent use of drugs, like antimicrobials. Some studies suggest up to two-thirds of some vaccines are used incorrectly.
4. Good reproductive performance has always paid and
still does. High calving and weaning weights hold down production costs but reproductive performance is the single most important factor in profitability.
5. A few people do not create a movement, but an industry does. Market forces have changed in the last decade and the beef industry has become much more tolerant of demands placed on it at the supermarket meat counter. Consumer demands about natural food free of chemicals and produced without harm to the environment or the welfare of animals do not go unnoticed. Efforts are made to explain and educate. Alberta Beef Producer s award-winning Raised Right campaign is an example of how an industry can showcase the efforts of cattle producers. The industry has been actively involved in developing and implementing Codes of Practice that help prevent the blemishes related to animal welfare that the industry parades on behalf of the unconcerned. Low-stress handling of livestock is no longer something you just read about.
6. Good quality water is perhaps the scarcest resource on the Prairies and needs to be utilized as efficiently as possible. The availability and importance of water has become an elemental part of managing grazing lands. Cattle using natural streams tend to erode stream banks and foul water, leading to sedimentation and pollution, and possibly algal blooms downstream. Riparian zone management is becoming a standard on most ranches.
7. Another game changer is the general recognition that this industry is part of a global community. On one side of the equation are the benefits of global trade and commerce as the population counter ticks past seven billion souls with an address on Planet Earth. On the other side of the equation are the challenges that going global brings with it. Emerging diseases, many of animal origin, are a constant threat to people and animals alike. There is the pandemic threat of things like avian influenza and concern over potential epidemics of highly infectious diseases like foot and mouth disease as people and animals traverse a constantly shrinking world. The range of a disease like blue tongue constantly changes as vectors take advantage of shifts in weather patterns, or diseases like West Nile virus jump ship in Manhattan and spread across North America as birds like the common robin become super shedders.
8. We need to remain aware of the universal spread of antibiotic resistance and what role agriculture may be contributing to human risks associated with highly resistant microbes that claim thousands of lives every year in hospital wards. As an industry, we have a role to play in the investment in research. How else can we address the fact that in 1990, 19 companies were in the business of developing antibiotics? Today there are four.