Beef industry leaders urged to unite for common good

(Canada Beef Inc. photo)

The leaders of Canada’s fractured beef sector need to work together and the rest of the industry needs to chip in more dollars for marketing and research, says a new report from a high-level task force.

“We need to think as an industry, not just as sector components,” said marketing specialist Kim McConnell, one of a trio of respected industry veterans who have spent the past year consulting players in the sector from across the country.

McConnell, along with Alberta cattlemen David Andrews and John Kolk, was asked to undertake the initiative in the wake of a stinging critique by the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute, which slammed the Canadian beef sector for being complacent and lacking a strategy to succeed.

The institute highlighted a number of troubling issues, including that in 2011, Canada received $3.74 for each kilogram of beef it sold in the U.S., while Americans sold us their beef, often from Canadian-raised cattle, at an average of $6.55 a kilogram. It also found American beef exports, on a value basis, have increased six times faster than Canadian ones since 2005.

The report from the Straw Man Beef Industry Initiative, released Dec. 30, calls for the creation of a new beef council and a step-by-step “results-based” strategy to make the industry more profitable, grow the national herd, and make Canadian beef the “preferred” choice at home and abroad.

BIXS 2.0

Among the recommendations are a call for more checkoff dollars for marketing and research, and creating a “BIXS 2.0” that would drive improvements in beef quality and profitability. But the key to the whole effort will be how well industry leaders work together, said McConnell.

The report recommends creating a “Council of Beef Leaders,” with its members capable of ensuring their “individual sector and association interests are parked at the door.” The group would meet twice a year and the focus would be on driving change, not creating yet another association, said McConnell.

“We do not need another organization in this industry, but (we need an) industry forum where senior representatives from all sectors of this supply chain can meet and share insights and ideas and then work together to solve them,” he said. “This is a case of where the sum is greater than the parts.”

But whether the industry sectors will be able to bring down their “many silos” to collaborate remains to be seen, he added.

“This is an industry that takes great pride in its independence, and working collectively on those areas that will advance the whole industry is going to be a challenge,” said McConnell.

The call to create BIXS 2.0 (short for Beef InfoXchange System) is another key recommendation. It would “collect, input and store all data (from genetics to production to carcass)” with the goal of improving both beef quality and profitability. Although this type of data is routinely shared between packers and feedlots, individual producers often don’t know how well their cattle rate unless they’re getting that information from a feeder to whom they regularly sell.

The current version of BIXS needs to be revamped by March and has to meet the needs of all users, the report says.

“It is imperative that the common repository be operational, efficient and sustainable,” it states.

The report calls on government to help fund and promote BIXS 2.0, saying the system needs to cover two million calves annually. It should also include information on production protocols, notably antibiotic use, and cattle genetics.

Increased national levy

To fund promotion of the system and to ramp up beef marketing, the report proposes several possible funding models, including an increase of the national levy from the current $1 per head at time of sale to up to $5. It also says a packer checkoff should be considered, but doesn’t suggest a figure.

Ultimately, it will be up to industry leaders to determine how they wish to proceed with the recommendations.

“We offered some thoughts on what should be in the plan, but the industry’s the one that needs to put that in place,” said McConnell.

The report recommends the new leaders council be led by an “independent” chair and have two reps each from the Canadian Beef Breeds Council, Canada Beef Inc., the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, and the National Cattle Feeders Association. As well, it recommends there be two youth reps (the president of the Young Cattlemen’s Council and one other) and a “senior representative” from the packing industry.

Colin Jeffares, who recently retired as Alberta’s assistant deputy minister of agriculture, has been retained to convene the first meeting of the leaders council.

— Jennifer Blair is a reporter at Red Deer and Glenn Cheater is an editor-at-large in Edmonton for Alberta Farmer Express.

Related stories:
Co-operation key to improving Canadian beef industry (blog), Dec. 31, 2013
BIXS reboot expected to ease access to carcass data, Aug. 28, 2013


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