There’s no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ when setting cost of production benchmarks for the variety of systems used on Canadian cow-calf operations.
This is the idea behind Canfax Research Services’ launch of the Canadian Cow-Calf Cost of Production Network. By identifying the range of production systems used across the country, Canfax aims to create better benchmarks for cow-calf producers in all provinces.
This isn’t the first time Canfax has set out to benchmark cow-calf production systems, with four benchmark farms created in Alberta and Saskatchewan in 2012.
“That experience taught us that the sheer amount of diversity within the cow-calf sector really required benchmarks that were specific to different production systems to be valuable to producers,” said Brenna Grant, manager of Canfax Research Services.
Funded by the Beef Cattle Research Council and delivered with provincial partners, the network will create baseline statistics on cost of production by running 26 producer focus groups throughout the country. Each focus group will represent varying eco-regions, with five to six producers that use differing production systems.
“This initiative, with 26 production systems being benchmarked, will give us a starting point to determine if more production systems are needed to be benchmarked or if we can start categorizing and grouping systems that are similar,” said Grant.
In addition to developing benchmarks that cover both the majority of Canadian producers and the national cowherd, this network will create “future farm” scenarios for each baseline operation to identify opportunities to make incremental progress with the five per cent rule. This precision agriculture concept states that a producer can make significant financial changes by just changing their input costs, price and productivity by five per cent each.
“This is about learning from producers to identify if further adoption of certain practices makes sense and if so, who does it make sense for,” she said. “For example, pre-conditioning may make sense for a certain production system and not for another. We want to get feedback from producers on who that is or isn’t. This will guide technology transfer on what to focus on but also inform us on if we have already reached a saturation point for adoption on some practices.”
Other purposes for this network include identifying opportunities for producers to reduce their cost of production while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to collect data for other potential analysis opportunities, such as exploring the success factors of small operations.
Producers will be selected to participate in the focus groups based on the information they provide about their operation when they sign up. This will allow for producers with similar systems to be grouped together.
“We expect that the production system identified for the focus group will have points of differences with each producer but overall are aiming for the main areas to be as close as possible.”
At the focus groups, producers will be asked to discuss topics such as their operation’s fixed costs and standard data on animal and feed production. Detailed questions about each operation’s finances will not be included. A full checklist of the information required from participating producers is available on the Canfax website in English and French.
Being involved in this program may be of interest to producers who want to leverage the knowledge collected through the network. “Shared thinking and getting ideas from producers with similar productions systems means that there is a much higher likelihood the ideas will be applicable on your operation,” said Grant.
The network may also appeal to those who haven’t seen their production system accurately represented in industry benchmarking initiatives. Grant encourages producers at all career stages and of all herd sizes to sign up.
“We know that there are a variety of production systems in the country and in order to capture that diversity we need producers with those different production systems to participate in the network,” she said.
Focus groups will start in January 2021. Individual data and results will be anonymous. More information is available on the Canfax website. Producers in Alberta can sign up by contacting a beef specialist at AgriProfit$, and producers in all other provinces can sign up through the Canfax website.