I believe in producing better products, and in turn producing higher-valued products, be it the genetics in the bulls we sell or in the beef we market
I have not written for CANADIAN CATTLEMEN in a long time and having been a columnist for GRAINEWS for the past five years it’s hard to decide how to start. So I figured it would be good to introduce myself to those of you who don’t know who I am, to give you an understanding of why I say what I do. You will find that over time my ideas for the future of the beef industry and for its sustainability are somewhat disconnected from the conventional mindset. A saying that I think about a lot when I do something different is, “if you do what you have always done you will always get what you have always got.”
I am a 38-year-old rancher who lives, writes, markets beef and purebred Angus cattle with my wife Erika and our three sons in the heart of Alberta’s Peace Country. I was bred and born in the Rhine Valley of Switzerland and transplanted into Canada when I was four when my father wanted to make a go of it in agriculture in Canada. I grew up in central Alberta on a dairy farm, attended the University of Alberta where I received a B. Sc. in Agriculture. I then went on to complete a masters degree in ruminant nutrition at Oregon State and then returned to Alberta to complete a PhD in animal science. Following my stint in the states and during my PhD I worked full time for nine years as a beef specialist for Alberta Agriculture. During this time I also started my journey of becoming a “rancher.” It was always a dream of mine to have a ranch and better yet make a living from combining solar energy, forages and livestock. I never cared much for hand feeding, shovelling manure and milking cows, even though in retrospect the Canadian dairy industry is one of the few bright spots that actually guarantees that farmers receive payment for cost of production, return on investment and a reasonable profit.
What I say and what I do has been shaped by the experiences, encounters and travels during the 38 years that I have been on this planet. My ideas, methodology and philosophy are elements from not only my education but from encounters with out-of-the-box thinkers and from the trial and error of pulling together these elements. The time spent working as a beef specialist shaped me immensely. It was a time of enlightenment. Not only did I work and learn a lot from industry experts among my colleagues and producers, I also began to question the solutions that we were giving as to turning this business around.
Looking back now I also look on that time as a beef specialist as my “Dark Days.” What I mean is that as a beef specialist I was part of a team that kept producers “production paralyzed.” In fact my mandate before my retirement was that I was a beef production system specialist. Grow more, produce it faster, produce it bigger and more importantly produce it cheaper.
Needless to say I believe most of you who are left have figured out that you can only limbo so low and that this strategy has not worked. There is always someone who can produce it cheaper and the only ones who have benefited from this strategy are the suppliers of the inventions that are supposed to make us more profitable. If you don’t believe this check out the stocks values of the companies that supply your business.
I believe there is only so much cost that a cow can carry. To have a reasonable chance at being profitable there is no room for operations that try to defy Mother Nature by trying to work against her. The most expensive gain on a calf is the first 400 pounds. Every pound thereafter gets cheaper. So I also believe there is little chance of cow-to-calf operations having long-term year-in, year-out profitability. Cattle, all ruminants, have been put on this planet to convert forages to protein, not oil to grain to protein.
I believe in producing better products, and in turn producing higher-valued products, be it the genetics in the bulls we sell or in the beef we market.
I believe that beef is a luxury item, so it should be marketed like a Rolex and not as it is on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange as a commodity like corn, oil and iron ore.
I believe there is opportunity for value chains, and most everything till now touting itself to be one has been disguised as “screw you chains,” where one segment or another is trying to take advantage of the other.
Canadian agriculture and its beef industry need to look to a future of eco-commitment — a commitment to both ecologically and economically viable agriculture. For without economic viability there will not be a generation of beef producers to follow behind the next.
These are some of my beliefs and ideas and I look forward to this opportunity to share my experiences, trials and errors and thoughts of my day-to-day life as a rancher, breeder and beef exporter with you all. — Dr. Christoph Weder
Dr. Christoph E. Weder is a purebred Angus breeder in the Peace region of Alberta, runs SVR Ranch Consulting and is a founding producer of Prairie Heritage Beef Producers Inc. For additional information check out www.spiritviewranch.com.