A mix of old and new sprinkled with unknowns marks Martin Zuidhof’s second year as chair of the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association (ACFA).
A priority internal project already underway this year involves working with a consultant to put a new strategic plan in place to ensure the association stays on track providing services of value to its members, and yet remains nimble in its ability to address issues as they arise during changing times with new governments and policies topped off by an array of consumer wants.
“The first five-year strategic plan nearing its end has been very valuable,” Zuidhof says. “We review it a couple of times a year, looking at our progress in the priority areas and what needs attention. New board members can see what we’ve been doing and what’s coming up, so it pretty much spells out what our organization is about.”
Complementing this effort is the awareness strategy with a strong communications and digital media component delivered through social media. It is already driving the public to blog articles on the website for an inside look at feedlot operations and issues.
A second priority is ACFA’s commitment to work with Alberta Beef Producers on developing a single plan for governing and funding Alberta’s beef industry and a resolution to that effect was passed at the ACFA’s AGM.
“A return to a simple, mandatory, non-refundable checkoff — the old 1969 model that implemented the original research and market development levy — is not an option for ACFA unless there’s agreement to protect producer choice, such as a directional levy,” Zuidhof explains.
The crippling $3 per animal unit (head tax) levy and special tax on farmland imposed last year by Lethbridge County for the upkeep of rural roads and bridges are disconcerting on many levels and a very dangerous precedent.
“Feedlots are open to a reasonable and equitable tax for road improvements and long-term solutions,” he says, “but not this kind of runaway tax grab for a quick fix.”
The new taxes put an unprecedented tax strain on feedlots and the county’s intention of increasing the head tax year by year has potential to put feedlots out of business, in turn having negative ramifications for packers upstream and cow-calf producers downstream, according to an independent study by economists at the University of Calgary and University of Alberta School of Public Policy.
Some feedlots have taken the county to court with proceedings getting underway earlier this year and the municipal tax issue will remain at the forefront of ACFA’s advocacy efforts. The association presented an initial paper to the county, followed up with several submissions to the provincial government, and has been working with the wider agriculture community to provide additional input to the university economists to fully measure the impact, look at how other jurisdictions deal with the issue of maintaining market transportation networks, and present reasonable alternatives.
Two meetings have been held with the provincial ministers of agriculture and municipal affairs and a new working group has been established to find a solution that would work for Alberta’s municipalities and cattle feeders.
The new carbon tax swiftly imposed province-wide in January is another serious concern that takes from the bottom line and threatens the competitiveness of the feedlot sector. Fuel used by producers in their farming operations isn’t subject to the carbon tax; however, it will be passed down to primary producers in the prices they pay for all purchased goods and services and the prices packers pay for calves to recoup the cost of the tax to their businesses, Zuidhof explains.
ACFA is a member of the intensive livestock working group established several years back that will be commissioning a study on the full impact of the carbon tax on these sectors.
The issue at centre stage this time last year was the province’s Bill 6 Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers’ Act and organizing the Ag Coalition to address the urgent need for all sectors to come together with government toward solutions that would make sense for agricultural operations.
The two technical working groups on employment standards and labour relations finalized their recommendations early this March and reports from the four occupational health and safety technical working groups were expected shortly. The regulatory amendments will be based on the recommendations and the public’s feedback during the comment periods.
ACFA fully supports the efforts by the Ag Coalition to create a Farm and Ranch Safety Association and, as a proactive strategy, it has developed a Feedlot Farm Safety Program for its own members.
Nick Schefter, senior safety co-ordinator with the private firm Critical Hazard HSE Ltd., a company with working knowledge of occupational health and safety (OH&S) requirements, worked with four feedlots to develop a safety program that is consistent with the provincial OH&S code. It was rolled out to members in early February offering a hazard assessment, a health and safety program tailored to the operation, and an eight-hour training session delivered right at the feedlot.