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Dave Solverson: CCA president

Man standing beside cattle.

Dave Solverson won’t need an introduction to the readers who remember him and his daughter, Joanne, as the faces of Canadian beef producers on tray liners in more than 1,400 McDonald’s restaurants across Canada back in 2012.

Solverson now is looking forward to his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be the face of the Canadian beef industry at home and abroad as the new president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA). His election was affirmed in April at the association’s annual meeting in Ottawa.

Having grown up on the family farm west of Camrose, Alta., he brings a lifetime of experience in the beef industry to the CCA’s top job.

“I’ve always been very interested in farming and the beef industry,” Solverson says. “One of the aspects I enjoy the most is the information exchange.”

His introduction to industry politics started with three, two-year terms as a delegate to Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) that ended in 2002. He might have left it as that except for the BSE wipeout in 2003 that reinforced in his mind how important industry work is to international trade. So in 2005 he let his name stand again and was elected as one of ABP’s representatives to the CCA. He’s since served on several CCA committees and as a long-time chair of the animal care committee until elected vice-president when Martin Unrau became president in 2012.

Building and maintaining relationships with industry leaders across Canada and trading partners will continue to be an important initiative for the CCA during Solverson’s tenure.

He gained an early introduction to the importance of relationships in this industry during his time as a seedstock producer where he learned it took strong relationships as well as quality cattle to be successful. Those 20-plus years of production sales, showing and a bit of judging took him across Alberta and Western Canada giving him insights into the needs of commercial cattle producers.

An opportunity to expand and raise more cattle with a commercial herd resulted in him, his brother Ken, and their parents, Bill and Mary, who still reside on the ranch, pooling their holdings to form a corporation.

Solverson credits his parents for providing a strong work ethic and his dad particularly for having the character to let the next generation learn by taking over management of the operation.

Today, Woodwind Ranch Inc. includes an 800-head cow-calf operation, a feedlot on the farm to finish their own calves, 2,000 acres of cropland, some pasture along the Battle River that runs through the farm and additional grazing land in the Athabasca area three hours north of Camrose. They’ve also relied on community pastures to accommodate growth of the herd through the years.

More from the Canadian Cattlemen website: Solverson heads up CCA

The high price of land is one of the drawbacks of raising cattle in a grain-growing area, he says. It does, however, offer the advantage of providing fairly secure feed supplies considering the many circumstances during a growing season that result in crops being salvaged for greenfeed or silage.

The feedlot was established in 2000 to capture the full advantage from using quality genetics in their cow herd. A ready feed supply and ability to market liner loads of finished calves to attract competitive bids made this a feasible venture. Purchase of a cattle liner to do all of their own hauling to the packers and distant pastures was another worthwhile investment.

“I feel that I know the full scope of the industry,” Solverson says. “Being on the CCA board for seven years has given me a good understanding and respect for the needs and different opportunities and challenges of beef producers across Canada.”

A major challenge countrywide is the contraction of the cow herd, translating to fewer cattle marketings and reduced checkoff revenue for the provincial associations to do the work of representing beef producers. The CCA in turn receives its operating funds from eight provincial associations. Each pays an annual assessment based on the province’s share of annual cattle marketings across the country. This fee is paid from the provincial checkoff and is in addition to the non-refundable $1 national checkoff that goes to Canada Beef for market development, promotion and research.

With money tight, the CCA, with the support of its provincial members, has worked out a renewed five-year strategic plan that focuses expenditures on initiatives that improve competitiveness, beef demand and productivity.

Solverson’s interest in trade grew from the ABP and CCA membership in CAFTA (Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance) along with other export commodity organizations representing agriculture products such as pork, canola, wheat and barley. “I soon realized that government really does look to industry to help develop policy, especially on international trade.”

“It’s impressive how the government has included us (CCA) in the decision-making process. We have been consulted at every step of negotiations on CETA (Canada-European Union Trade Agreement), TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership), the Korea free-trade negotiations, and ongoing maintenance of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) including COOL (mandatory country-of-origin labelling).”

“The government right now has an aggressive rules-based trade agenda and trade deals will be very much a part of what the CCA can do for producers,” Solverson says.

He credits CCA’s full-time staff in Ottawa, John Masswohl and Ryder Lee, for fostering this good working relationship with members of the government and opposition parties and their staff.

“I enjoy the interaction with MPs and MLAs and appreciate the work they do for us,” Solverson says.

Another valuable initiative has been the CCA’s involvement in the Five Nations Beef Alliance with producer associations in the U.S., Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. It is a venue where producers can share information on common concerns. Because of these strong relationships the CCA has been better prepared to offer guidance to Canada’s TPP negotiators and mobilize support beyond our borders for Canada’s efforts to convince USDA to modify its COOL regulation.

Additional trilateral meetings between Mexican, American and Canadian beef industry leaders happen a couple of times a year and the CCA sends representatives to the annual meetings of the U.S. and Mexican beef associations.

No doubt, tending to CCA business for the next two years will take Solverson away from the farm more often than usual. That wouldn’t be possible without the support of his family, including his daughter Joanne, a graduate of the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders development program, who is employed as a livestock specialist with UFA but lives on the farm. Besides the family, he says long-time employee Joe Bennet certainly deserves the title of vice-president of production.

In anticipation of this extra work load Solverson has taken some pressure off the home ranch by moving 300 cows into the Peace Country where Shelley Morrison custom calves, pastures and winters the herd using a bale-grazing system. Moving the start of calving to mid-April has also helped to relieve some of the labour demands during the busy spring season.

As for the workload on CCA business, Solverson says he will be relying on his fellow board members and their seasoned professional staff to help him meet the challenges the beef industry is bound to face in the years ahead.

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