McDonald’s Canada backs Manitoba research project

Newly established beef and forage research farm recently 
opened its doors to showcase value to sector

From left: Minister of agriculture, Ralph Eichler, Ramona Blyth, chair of the MBFI board, and Jeffery Fitzpatrick-Stilwell, senior manager of sustainability for McDonald’s Canada.

McDonald’s Canada sees itself as a longtime partner of the Manitoba beef industry.

It contributed $25,000 in February to the Manitoba Beef and Forage Industry for a collaborative project of science-based research to enhance ecosystems, producer profitability and build awareness of the beef and forage industry.

One McDonald’s executive says the now-completed pilot is just the beginning.

“Now that the pilot is over we are looking at initiatives like the Manitoba Beef and Forage Initiative (MBFI) that will help us to support and aid the industry get to the next level,” said Jeffery Fitzpatrick-Stilwell, senior manager of sustainability for McDonald’s Canada. “Things are really good in the Canadian beef sector. But, they can always get better and we want to support that.”

He added the restaurant chain is interested in engaging the beef industry in a meaningful and transformational way, and goes beyond simple marketing window dressing.

“This wasn’t just a sponsorship to get our logo on something, we really saw the value in this initiative specifically,” Fitzpatrick-Stilwell said. “This will add real value and we see the long-term benefits.”

The contribution to MBFI came on the heels of the conclusion of the McDonald’s Canada’s sustainable beef project, which was the corporation’s single-largest global investment in sustainable beef.

“We are honoured to be selected for this contribution,” said Ramona Blyth, chair of the MBFI board. “McDonald’s and MBFI are both working on the same goal of strengthening the sustainability in our industry so to have its support is huge.”

On July 26, MBFI hosted a McDonald’s Day Production Tour at its Brookdale research farm to recognize the contribution and give producers and the public a chance to get on site.

“This research farm was just a base thought 18 months ago. We have put a lot of sweat equity into getting here today,” Blyth said. “Infrastructure is up and running, cattle are on the landscape, and our key projects have been started.”

Collaborative mindset

Fitzpatrick-Stilwell says the MBFI project drew McDonald’s Canada’s attention because of its collaboration with industry stakeholders and its holistic approach to improving both the beef and forage sector.

“When MBFI started discussing how it was bringing non-government organizations, government, academic and other groups all together, it was just music to our ears,” Fitzpatrick Stilwell said. “That is how we want to work. We are not the experts, we want to work with those who are and we want to be a part of that story.”

MBFI’s four core partners include Manitoba Forage and Grasslands Association, Manitoba Beef Producers, Ducks Unlimited and Manitoba Agriculture, but the organization also strives to partner with research and education facilities and other stakeholders with interest in advancing the industry.

“We have learnt over time that not one person can do all, so if we bring different groups together that are looking for the same outcome, we have more power in numbers,” Blyth said.

Fitzpatrick-Stilwell says that McDonald’s Canada has not committed to any further monetary support to MBFI at this time but will certainly keep tabs on the initiative’s progress.

“Part of why I am here today is to see what is being worked on and the support that is being shown by other groups as well as the provincial government,” Fitzpatrick-Stilwell said.

Provincial support

Provincial Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler was on hand at the production day tour and says the province is highly supportive of MBFI and he thinks the research being conducted at the farm will be a critical vehicle in rebuilding the province’s cattle numbers.

“We want to see our cattle numbers grow and this initiative will help us do that,” Eichler said. “This is just a fantastic opportunity for producers to learn through shared partnerships, and at the end of the day, that is what it is all about, what we can learn and take back to the farm.”

Eichler says there are approximately 450,000 beef cattle in the province and he wants to see those numbers grow back to where they sat before BSE, around 750,000.

“It is a significant gain. I see it probably taking eight to nine years. I know that it is ambitious but… I want to see those numbers grow,” Eichler said.

Eichler adds that the government certainly has a role in creating growth in the beef sector but in the instance of MBFI, a supportive role is best.

“This should not be run by government but certainly supported by government. When we look at the partnerships that are involved in this initiative, it is a win-win for everyone,” Eichler said.

Blyth believes there is great value in having applied research conducted on Manitoba soil and knows MBFI can play a part in strengthening the sector’s numbers.

“As national leaders have told us from time to time, research is the critical component of the National Beef Strategy and we want to see more of that research done on the ground here in Manitoba so that our producers can use the information on their operations,” Blyth said.

This article was originally published in the August 4, 2016 issue of the Manitoba Co-operator

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