Beef supply chain players talk resiliency at Ag in Motion Discovery Plus

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and Canadian Cattlemen magazine have teamed up to organize a panel to discuss some of the big questions facing the industry.

As the beef and restaurant industries deal with the aftermath of a COVID spring and look to the fall, a panel comprising individuals from each link in the supply chain will discuss ways to build resiliency throughout the industry at Ag in Motion Discovery Plus.

The discussion covers risks and opportunities facing each panelist, what needs to be done to build resiliency, COVID-19’s effect on public perception, key takeaways from the pandemic so far, and more.

Adaptability has been key for Maryjo Tait and her husband, Rob, who own and operate Celtic Ridge Farms southwest of London, Ontario. They have a 100-head cow-calf operation, and finish about 90 per cent of their cattle on-farm, Tait said in her opening remarks. Tait said they primarily work with smaller local processors.

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Before COVID-19, they were selling those animals wholesale to restaurants and through local markets. Since March, their business has done a “360-degree pivot,” said Tait, as they lost most of their wholesale market.

Shifting how they market their product and “make ends meet” means selling more meat directly to customers, she added.

In Bob Lowe’s mind, the pandemic has presented an opportunity to the food system as it has boosted public awareness. But it’s also heightened risk for the beef industry.

“From our business point of view, the biggest threat…is if a packer has to slow down or close in the so-called second wave,” said Lowe, co-owner of Bear Trap Feeders and president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA).

One way to shore up the industry against risk is to have business risk management programs “that actually work for the cattle industry on the shelf and funded, so you don’t need to go through a whole bunch of different learning, teaching new politicians…what needs to happen,” he added.

Another theme that emerged was the need for reliable information to adapt to a risk that no one had experience managing until recently.

Jarrod Gillig, vice president of operations at Cargill, said that they were able to implement some measures from other Cargill locations around the world. Early measures included taking temperatures of people entering plants, using questionnaires about symptoms and installing barriers. One thing they’d likely do differently, if they had a chance, is have a more readily available supply of masks, he added.

When they were able to get the masks, it was a “huge shift” for them, he added. As concerns loom about a second wave, Gillig said they’re focusing on ways to keep people safe. Within communities, people still need to be vigilant, and find ways to take practices such as wearing masks and social distancing from Cargill’s facilities to their communities, he added.

Chop Steakhouse and Bar’s team has also had to adjust quickly to the COVID-19 risk. There’s been a constant need to develop new health and safety protocols, said Trystan Halpert, director of operations at Chop.

Developing Chop’s “COVID-19 playbook” required several weeks of data collection from the U.S. and other continents. The playbook has “hundreds of things that we must do,” Halpert said, whether they are mandated by law or are best practices from across the world. The goal is to help Chop flatten the curve as its employees and clientele return to the restaurant.

“That’s been quite challenging and it’s ever-changing. So it’s almost a full-time job to keep track of what’s new in the news and what’s mandated by local health regions across the country,” said Halpert.

The “Building Resiliency in the Beef Industry” panel is a joint effort between the CCA and Canadian Cattlemen magazine, with Lisa Guenther, editor, moderating. The discussion was pre-recorded last week to minimize technical issues, but Ag in Motion attendees will be able to pose questions to panellists through the live chat on July 23, 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm (Sask time). On July 24, the panel will run again from 7 pm to 8 pm, but panellists won’t be available for the chat.

Ag in Motion Discovery Plus also features many other sessions geared towards beef producers in Livestock Central on everything from silage to stockdogs to sustainability. The sustainability panel features Erika Stewart (VBP+ coordinator for Sask.), Anne Wasko (chair of Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef) and Jeff Fitzpatrick-Stilwell (McDonald’s Canada).

Registration is free at aginmotion.ca. Once registered, event schedules will display the attendee’s local time.

About the author

Editor

Lisa Guenther

Lisa Guenther is the editor of Canadian Cattlemen. You can follow her on Twitter @LtoG.

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