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The evolution of the Beef Cattle Research Council

Research on the Record with Reynold Bergen

This column usually features research projects funded by the BCRC. This month is a bit of a higher-level view of some of the BCRC’s other activities. Canada’s cattle and beef producers pay the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-off that supports the Beef Cattle Research Council, Canada Beef’s domestic and international marketing activities and the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association’s public and stakeholder engagement initiative. Provincial beef producer groups decide how the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-off dollars from their province are allocated among these three main groups.

When the BCRC was established in 2001, about one nickel from each Canadian Beef Cattle Check-off dollar was allocated to research. That left the BCRC with a large mandate — to support forage, cattle and beef research and technology development across Canada — but a smaller research budget than some provincial beef groups.

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These constraints meant the BCRC had to be selective, focused and strategic. The BCRC selected research projects that provided direct benefits to primary producers, either through reduced production costs or potentially increased revenues. “Public good” research (e.g. animal welfare or environmental research) was left to governments to fund. The BCRC focused on funding research, but left extension to the provincial governments. The BCRC was strategic; knowing that a small industry investment could attract much larger government investments, the BCRC was careful to avoid fully funding projects. This allowed scarce producer dollars to be spread over more research projects. The BCRC also oversaw the Quality Starts Here program, as it evolved into Verified Beef Production and now VBP+.

As beef producers gained more appreciation for the value of industry-funded research, some provincial groups began allocating more of the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-off dollar to the BCRC. This was timely, as shifting public concerns created an increasing need for applied beef research in areas like antimicrobial resistance, animal welfare, environmental footprint and extension that the BCRC couldn’t afford earlier. The Beef Science Cluster program (a five-year collaborative funding arrangement between the BCRC and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) allowed the BCRC to get more involved in a wider range of forage, cattle and beef research activities, and to establish a technology transfer program to convert research results into decision-making tools for producers. The BCRC is currently managing its third and largest Beef Science Cluster.

In 2017, the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-off was increased from $1 to $2.50 per head marketed, with approximately 75 cents allocated to the BCRC. This has allowed the BCRC to do a lot more things, including:

Annual calls for proposals: One drawback of the Beef Cluster is that all the projects are approved at once, then unfold over the next five years. That’s a problem for researchers who don’t make the cut for the Beef Cluster, or when important research questions arise between clusters — they must wait a few years for another chance at Cluster funding. The increased Canadian Beef Cattle Check-off means the BCRC can now fund new projects every year, instead of every five years.

Proof of concept funding: Research proposals submitted to the BCRC are sent for expert review to assess whether the project is a good investment. In the past, some projects were rejected because they were based on an unusual new technology or approach that had no track record. Thanks to the increased Canadian Beef Cattle Check-off, the BCRC can now support small, preliminary “proof of concept” trials that allow researchers to test whether a brand new idea (or a novel idea adapted from another industry or part of the world) has the potential to benefit Canadian producers, before conducting a full-blown research trial.

Research chairs: Agriculture departments and universities used to routinely hire researchers to perform production-focused cattle, forage and beef research. Now, universities often hire researchers who are more inclined towards “cutting edge” research that attracts significant government research funding dollars. That’s not altogether bad, but we still need producer-focused research. Thanks to the increased Canadian Beef Cattle Check-off, the BCRC has been able to co-fund a chair in One Health and production-limiting diseases at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, as well as the BCRC-Hays chair in beef production systems at the University of Alberta.

Surveillance: Federal and provincial governments used to conduct surveillance for production-limiting diseases. Over the years, their focus has narrowed to focus on diseases that have an impact on trade or human health. Routine disease surveillance has mostly dropped off the radar, but it’s still important to understand the changing prevalence of production-limiting diseases, (re)emerging diseases, antibiotic resistance and production practices. Thanks to the increased Canadian Beef Cattle Check-off, the BCRC can now support surveillance activities to help prioritize research and extension efforts.

Extension: As provincial governments continue to shrink their extension services, the BCRC is working with provincial beef groups, veterinarians, forage organizations and other non-traditional extension expertise to build producer resources and make them available through beefresearch.ca.

The BCRC has expanded its range of activities significantly since it began in 2001, but it hasn’t lost sight of the need to remain selective, focused and strategic. This column won’t be short of material for the foreseeable future.

The Beef Cattle Research Council is funded by the Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off. The BCRC partners with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, provincial beef industry groups and governments to advance research and technology transfer supporting the Canadian beef industry’s vision to be recognized as a preferred supplier of healthy, high-quality beef, cattle and genetics.

About the author

Contributor

Dr. Reynold Bergen is the science director of the Beef Cattle Research Council.

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