Cowboy politics

News Roundup from the April 2016 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

Beef Farmers of Ontario

BFO is looking forward to another year of advancing its Beef North initiative as well as projects in southern Ontario, all aimed at expanding the province’s cow herd by at least 100,000 head.

That’s the number of calves needed just by the Ontario Corn-Fed Beef value chain to meet its requirements and retain the existing beef industry infrastructure across the province, according to the new Beef North website launched just in time for BFO’s February annual general meeting.

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The website, beefnorth.com, lays out the need for more cattle to sustain the beef value chain, the opportunity for beginning and existing farmers to establish economically viable farm businesses of scale in northern Ontario where the climate favours pasture-raised livestock, potential Crown land lease or purchase options that BFO continues to discuss with the provincial government, an economic calculator to help farmers determine the feasibility of expansion, and information on many other resources.

Continuing to work with the government on improvements to the feeder finance and breeder finance programs is another important piece of the expansion strategy and a priority for 2016, says BFO president Matt Bowman.

Increases to the feeder finance guarantee (global) limit, and more recently the individual limit, were outpaced by high cattle prices posted last year. At this point the BFO is seeking another top up to the global limit.

“This helps with keeping our feedlots full and if we can get the breeder finance part corrected, it could help attract new cow-calf producers. This is just one tool to start turning around the downward trend in cattle numbers to keep packing plants full, sales yards busy, feed mills operating and all of the other businesses on the infrastructure side interested in being in the business in Ontario,” Bowman says.

Other resolutions supported by the producers urged BFO to continue pressing for a government-backed guarantee of the breeder loan program to improve financing terms for cow-calf operations, and work with feeder co-ops to enhance program services and funding opportunities.

Another priority will be working with the National Checkoff Agency to sort out details of the proposed $1.50 per head increase in the national checkoff.

A resolution to conditionally support the increase was carried at the meeting, however any change to beef checkoffs in Ontario requires a constitutional change to BFO bylaws. Since members weren’t given sufficient notice of a rule change, Ontario can’t officially approve a checkoff increase until the next annual meeting. Basically, this year’s resolution gives the board approval to carry on negotiations with the National Checkoff Agency, Bowman explains.

The resolution instructs the BFO to endorse the request for an increase so long as Ontario retains the right to direct levy dollars to fund specific Ontario programs; and the national agencies funded in whole or in part by the national levy demonstrate that at least part of the new funds will be used to address regional needs across the country.

“The BFO directs percentages of the national levy collected in Ontario to Canada Beef for market development, the Beef Cattle Research Council for research, and to provincial investment. The CCA is funded through memberships paid by provincial associations, not by the national levy; however, the CCA will require some checkoff funds in its role as the lead on the social license part of the new national beef strategy, Bowman says.

Members also instructed the BFO to develop a plan to increase compliance with checkoff regulations to bring in more of this lost revenue to fund provincial and national initiatives.

Another project on the drawing board for 2016 is the construction of a new cow barn equipped for reproduction and production research at the University of Guelph’s Elora station. This will complement the feedlot barn built in 2005 with advanced equipment to conduct genetic research targeting feed efficiency and meat tenderness. The BFO contributed $71,000 toward that facility.

Another pair of resolutions dealing with securing land for rural farm families asked the board to lobby provincial and municipal governments to increase the levies on agricultural acreages purchased for non-agricultural use, increase the minimum farm income required to obtain a farm business registration number, and establish foreign-ownership policies that limit the amount of agricultural land non-residents are allowed to purchase.

All of the carried resolutions along with the board’s responses are posted as they become available under policies and issues at ontariobeef.com.

Alberta Cattle Feeders Association

ACFA is well on its way to creating a feedlot safety training program and is also preparing to assist members with developing emergency preparedness plans specific to their operations.

Ernie Kimak of Edmonton has been hired as agriculture fieldman to promote these programs and other ACFA offerings to members and prospective members. Kimak, who has retired from a 35-year career with veterinary pharmaceutical companies in sales, marketing, human resources and management positions in Western Canada, now organizes agricultural tours to other countries and says he looks forward to his new role because ACFA provides many initiatives that deliver value to cattle feeders on a day-to-day basis.

According to ACFA’s CEO Bryan Walton, two contract specialists have visited four feedlots of varying sizes at various locations in Alberta to gather input from owners and staff that will provide the foundation for a safety program that makes sense for feedlots. Current farm safety resources that are already available will be pulled in to flesh out the program. Since the Workers Compensation Board is now in the picture as a result of provincial Bill 6 to enhance protection for farm and ranch workers, the ACFA will do what it can to ensure recognition for the program and those who successfully complete it.

This initiative arises from ACFA’s new farm safety policy statement, which also guides the association’s position for the provincial government’s consultations with industry to develop regulations for Bill 6. ACFA’s position is to implement the recommendations of the farm safety advisory council, provide a choice between WCB or private insurance, and apply safety standards developed by government and industry instead of the Occupational Health & Safety technical code.

ACFA is a full participant in the Alberta Agriculture Farm and Ranch Safety Coalition of 29 livestock and crop associations co-chaired by ACFA’s immediate past chair Page Stuart.

The emergency preparedness initiative builds on the template ACFA completed last year to protect animals, the environment and human health in the event of a disease outbreak or natural disaster. This relates to the new environmental stewardship policy statement and new animal care policy statements also developed last year along with others on trade and labour.

The labour policy statement calls for creating a dedicated workforce program for agriculture and the agri-food sector to provide consistent access to international agriculture workers as outlined in the Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Workforce Action Plan.

ACFA’s recruitment and retention campaign offers workshops tailored for producers; the first one was facilitated by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) during the Alberta Beef Industry Conference in February. As a supporting member of the CAHRC, ACFA members have access to the comprehensive recruitment and retention tool kit and other resources available on the CAHRC’s website. ACFA’s new website includes industry information, job boards and a resume bank.

ACFA’s next-generation initiative involves young cattle feeders by inviting them to meetings and events. In the same vein, ACFA was called upon as an industry association to lend its expertise to the development of a curriculum for the new Agriculture Business Risk Management course at Lethbridge College. This is the program that was made possible by ACFA honorary life member Cor Van Raay’s generous donation of $5 million to the college in 2014. The course is targeted at beef, pork, grain and oilseed producers as well as agribusiness employees and entrepreneurs.

Other issues on ACFA’s radar include a possible review of the Agricultural Operations Practices Act starting in 2017, developments around verifying sustainability and antimicrobial stewardship, and the anticipated opening of the Harmony Beef plant at Balzac.

Discussions have been ongoing with Alberta Beef Producers to arrive at a plan for the provincial industry that is beneficial to both ACFA and ABP in their work to advance the future of the industry. ACFA continues to support a mandatory refundable checkoff until agreement can be reached on one plan.

ACFA agrees that the industry would benefit from the proposed $1.50 per marketed head increase in the national checkoff, but contends funding issues such as provincial clawbacks need to be addressed before asking for more. The ACFA board has called for a budget and governance plan to be produced before the checkoff is increased.

The association’s annual meeting concluded with Rick Paskal presenting ACFA’s honorary life member award to Garnet Altwasser, one of the three founding partners of the former Lakeside Packers (now JBS) at Brooks.

National Cattle Feeders’ Association

NCFA ended the year on a high note with PAACO (Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization) certifying its Feedlot Animal Care Assessment Tool (FLAT) leading up to the organization’s annual general meeting.

FLAT was developed by the NCFA in collaboration with packers, retailers, veterinarians, animal behaviour specialists and transport consultants to serve as the recognized animal-care standard for feedlots, beef processors and retailers nationwide.

“The next step is to have PAACO train accreditors in Canada to certify any feedlot that wants to be involved. This is totally voluntary. From there, we wait to see what packers want to do,” explains NCFA chair Larry Schweitzer.

Packers could look at the list of certified feedlots to assure customers that yes, the beef has been sourced from animals that have been raised according to FLAT protocols, or they might send their own auditor out to the feedlot, depending on the customer’s needs.

“The big thing is that having feedlots certified with accredited protocols will give faith to everyone,” he says. “It was interesting to learn that feedlots are already doing most of what the packers and retailers wanted. I think the packers already knew that, but the retailers didn’t.”

Schweitzer, who owns Hamiota Feeders at Hamiota, Man., encourages his counterparts to get involved because it’s a great story to be part of and not difficult to do. He was involved in the test runs that were done across the country to develop this tool and found out that Hamiota Feeders was doing more than was required to satisfy the protocols. The areas that needed to improve focused mainly on record-keeping.

He is also pleased that, because the three big packers on the advisory committee designing the program and auditing tool — Cargill, JBS and Tyson — are U.S. companies, so this Canadian tool mirrors animal care expectations in the U.S. This will be important as opportunities to ship cattle south open up now that country-of-origin labelling is dead.

The NCFA offers an emergency preparedness template for Canadian feedlots as well. The Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association developed the manual that lays out a framework for handling emergencies, such as disease threats and environmental disasters.

The year ahead will definitely be one of renewing relations with the federal government. The association fully intends to follow up on commitments made by the political parties in response to the NCFA’s policy statement on the most important issues affecting cattle feeders discussed with candidates across the county during the election campaign.

“Government relations is something we have always worked on every day between our lobbyists right there in Ottawa, and our policy analyst, Casey Vander Ploeg, meeting with government people and making appointments for us to meet with the ministers. It’s usually us taking our positions to them, but now they are asking questions back, so that’s a good sign that they respect the NCFA as a credible representative for the cattle feeding business. We want to get our views across before they change or make regulations,” he says.

NCFA’s people regularly meet with the agriculture minister, Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada as the CFIA continues down its path of modernizing regulations, currently including those for feed ingredients and transportation.

Advocating for improvements to the Temporary Foreign Worker program is one way to address chronic labour shortages at feedlots and packing plants that has been an ongoing issue.

The carbon tax-carbon credit issue now in the pipeline is another good example of why it’s important for cattle feeders to pull together to make their positions known to those who ultimately write new regulations.

Schweitzer says the association also expects to complete its own regulatory reform initiative this year. This project started with focus groups in each province to identify problem regulations that should be updated to better reflect today’s realities in the feedlot sector, and develop business cases for more practical alternatives.

“Competitiveness with other major beef exporting nations, including the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, is a big part of it. We don’t want our regulations to be offside with theirs because it makes us less competitive,” Schweitzer says.

Veterinary drug approvals and protocols on processing and transport are examples of the regulations they’ve been assessing. In this vein, NCFA continues to support the work of the Canada-U.S. Regulatory Co-operation Council formed to achieve better alignment between regulations in the two countries.

Support for government efforts toward bringing the CETA and TPP trade agreements into force also falls into the competitiveness folder.

Summing up, Schweitzer feels 2016 will be an important year for the NCFA in advancing the three strategic pillars: growth and sustainability, competitiveness, and industry leadership.

Western Stock Growers’ Association

This year’s WSGA annual meeting was short on business with only two resolutions, but long on related discussion and presentations.

A resolution to support the Farm and Ranch Safety Coalition (AgCoalition) of 29 Alberta crop and livestock associations in its work to prepare for consultations with the provincial governments as it develops regulations for Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, was initially put on hold until after they heard from AgCoalition co-chair Page Stuart.

WSGA members were initially concerned that independent producers wouldn’t be heard with the government handpicking industry representatives from the nomination process to sit at each of six working tables, and the AgCoalition forming a strategic planning working group.

Stuart explained the AgCoalition’s strategy committee would be looking at the big picture so that opportunities won’t be missed. Its role is to provide strategic support to the technical working group and the industry advisory forum. The technical working group would include staff, industry representatives and possibly external expertise to carry out the daily work, while the industry advisory forum would regularly provide input. Another committee would work on communications and administrative processes. An email address, [email protected], has been set up to gain feedback and questions from farmers and ranchers. A website has also been established at www.agcoalition.ca.

At the end of the meeting, members voted to support the coalition’s efforts, but left it subject to regular review by their board of directors.

A followup meeting of all coalition members significantly boosted the WSGA’s confidence in its decision to support the AgCoalition. The industry group will include one producer from each member organization. One of its jobs is to organize producer meetings in northern, central and southern regions of the province to inform producers of what’s happening at the consultation tables and collect feedback throughout the process.

The second WSGA resolution called for ecosystem goods and services to be redefined as an agricultural product and a market-based system be developed to ration­alize demand and encourage producers to supply these services.

Marian Weber, with Alberta Innovates environmental planning and economics program, was the guest speaker on this topic.

She agreed that markets for ecosystem services have been a long time coming but suggests the climate is looking more favourable today as governments and producers are being challenged to intensify their production to provide food for a growing world population while, at the same time, maintaining biodiversity and water quality in a sustainable way.

Baseline requirements for ecosystem services are a common sticking point in market-based programs because producers want to be recognized for what they have done in the past to maintain the ecology on their farms and ranches.

It has become apparent that producer uptake is low when baseline requirements are too high, or difficult. Conversely, if available credits are too expensive, there aren’t many buyers. Weber now believes that easing baseline requirements would bring in more producers, and more producers would translate to more change in the environment.

Demand, credible science to measure benefits, and trust between governments, non-government organizations and producers are just some of hurdles to the success of a market-based ecosystems services program.

The bottom line is that for it to work, producers who are interested in these markets must get involved in their development.

Alberta Forage Industry Network

What AFIN lacks in size is more than made up for by the passion of its membership of producers, research associations, seed companies, forage exporters and industry groups, which has been on the rise recently.

For a basically volunteer organization with limited resources it has had a busy year, according to chair Christine Fulkerth of Olds College.

Two position papers were drafted for AFIN during the year, one on climate change and the other on genetically engineered alfalfa. “We aren’t against the technology, but want to keep the genetics out of Western Canada until our export hay markets come on board. This is still a significant issue for export markets,” Fulkerth explains.

At the AFIN annual meeting a forage seed industry update confirmed the need to wait until export markets approve the technology. Other industry updates briefed members on current issues in the beef industry and export hay industry, the Alfalfa Seed Commission, Alberta Forage Beef Centre at Lacombe, the Canadian Forage & Grassland Association, the Agriculture Research and Extension Council of Alberta, and specifically research projects on sainfoin and forage insects.

Members also support research by writing letters suggesting projects that would benefit different aspects of the provincial forage industry.

Proposals for studies on the carbon footprint of forages and, high-legume pastures are just a couple of examples, along with requests for numerous varietal trials.

She says the surprising shift on the political side with a new NDP government in Alberta and the Liberals in Ottawa, and both committed to the environment, provides some hope for securing more funds for forage research.

Already Agriculture Canada has filled a research position at the Beaver Lodge farm in Alberta, and a new position has opened up at Swift Current, Sask.

The emphasis this year will be on completing the two position papers, continuing to press for forage establishment insurance, and attemping to make communications more of a priority.

Kristen McDonald of High River, who is Alberta Farm Animal Care’s marketing and membership manager, has been a great help as AFIN’s as-needs administrator since late 2014.

The board welcomed two new directors, Cyrus Weasel Fat, a hay exporter from the Blood Reserve in southern Alberta, and Mark Hagen with BrettYoung Seeds. Doug Wray, a beef producer from Irricana, let his name stand again.

AFIN presented its 2016 leadership award to Wray for his long-time service to the forage industry as a founding member and past chair of AFIN and current past chair of the Canadian Forage and Grassland Association.

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