The surprisingly socialist tack taken by the Alberta government towards its beef industry is being met with a degree of understanding by industry advocates in Ontario.
It’s the potential implications that are worrisome.
That’s the view of Jim Clark, general manager of the Ontario Cattle Feeders Association, and Gord Hardy, president of the Ontario Cattlemen’s Association (OCA) and a director of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.
With U. S. markets for Alberta cattle shrinking because of the Country-of-Origin Labelling mandate, they fear a tidal wave of animals and beef sweeping eastward.
“We’re left going into a market against subsidized Alberta and subsidized Quebec. That’s not free trade. It’s a subsidized market,” Hardy says.
“I do give credit for Alberta stepping up to the plate… they had the balls to jump in and say, ‘we’re going to take this industry by the horns.’”
Hardy and Clark spoke at the 11th annual Beef Industry Conference in London, Ontario on January 9.
Representing an Alberta point of view was Dr. Kee Jim— one of Canada’s largest cattle producers and one of the government appointees to the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA) board of directors.
Jim says the lack of federal leadership for the Canadian beef industry forced Alberta’s hand.
“The beef industry is a big deal in the economy here and it gets deference it the Alberta legislature,” Jim says.
“We’d like to keep a level playing field across the country… but here Alberta has 40 per cent of the cows in the country and around 70 to 75 per cent of the feedlot production and around 80 per cent of the slaughter capacity.”
ALMA is to be funded with $40 to $50 million annually — a modest amount in Jim’s estimation — from Alberta’s coffers. The intention is to differentiate Alberta beef, pork other meats with brand programs, build new and more lucrative markets, improve supply chains and make a variety of research and development investments.
Alberta’s $37 million commitment to the Legacy Fund controlled by the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association — to which the federal government committed $50 million — is to be “realigned” but not pulled back, Kim notes.
Back in Ontario, Hardy says there’s been a similar effort with the Ontario Industry Value Chain Roundtable. But the government/industry-sponsored effort doesn’t involve much of a financial commitment.
Ontario and Ottawa recently agreed to loan the auto sector in the province $3 billion. Beef industry advocates in the province haven’t been able to convince their legislature that they also need greater support.
That leaves Ontario producers with its Ontario Corn Fed Beef program, an initiative of the Ontario Cattle Feeders Association. The OCA has been backing the OCFA with $400,000 in annual funding. There’s been modest government support.
There’s a single federally inspected packer in Ontario, Cargill Meat Solutions. The Corn Fed program has been one of biggest success stories with as many as 1,700 cattle a week being marketed in late 2008.
Clark, who’s been instrumental in pushing the program forward since its founding in 2001, feels Alberta will be looking to the big eastern markets now that the COOL legislation is being implemented in the United States.
Jim, however, says cattle producers outside of Alberta should benefit from ALMA initiatives. Program goals include moving more Alberta cattle overseas and maintaining access to the U. S. market.
When that happens, there’s a pricing benefit for all Canadian producers, he says.
That scenario, however, may be best played out in provinces such as Saskatchewan, closely tied to the Alberta industry.
Bruce Holmquist of the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association says about 600,000 Saskatchewan calves are finished in Alberta feedlots annually. Hopefully, the value and marketing opportunities generated by ALMA will trickle down to producers in his province.
Like ALMA, Holmquist says the new Saskatchewan organization is intended to help the industry in his province work in a concerted fashion. It’s been endorsed by both the Sas-