Legendary horseman Tom Dorrance once said: “You can learn anything with these three words – observe, remember, and compare.” Beyond that, he said, learn to adjust to fit the situation.
Although Tom’s wise advice was a reflection on horsemanship, I couldn’t think of any better advice for what our industry faces today.
Throughout last spring we were in constant conversation with the Alberta government and Alberta Financial Services Corporation (AFSC), as we watched the drought situation very closely. Things looked desperate. We resigned ourselves to the fact that there would be no moisture relief. Tough decisions on cow herd dispersals looked inevitable, and cows were starting to come to town from every direction. Thankfully, in late June, the skies opened, and we received the “million-dollar rain” province-wide.
Since then, we’ve seen a return to hot, dry conditions. In fact, Alberta spent more late summer days under heat warnings than at regular temperatures. Our feed situation is much improved compared to last year, but we are just beginning to replenish depleted supplies. The two-in-three years stockpile is gone, and producers must now attempt to put up enough feed to replenish their stackyards.
In other words, we have a long way to go to fully recover from the severe drought in 2021. In my opinion, now is the time to elevate our beef operations, by deciding what we can do to be as “drought-proof” as possible. Remember and observe as we look back on our operations. What would have helped us through that extended period of drought? Compare to the present situation. What can be done differently now? What investments might help get us through the next one (which we know is coming)? Keep in mind that there may be government funding programs for water projects, so don’t put those on the back burner.
Of course, drought recovery is not the only issue we faced in recent months. Although we can’t control the weather, at ABP we do work hard and lobby on behalf of our industry and producers for better outcomes.
In early June, Health Canada introduced new Front-of-Package (FOP) labelling. This regulation would have required ground beef sold in stores to carry a “high in saturated fat” warning label, indicating that ground beef is unhealthy when, in fact, it’s a nutrient-rich, wholesome source of protein that Canadians rely on.
We reacted quickly. I reached out to Alberta Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Rural Economic
Development, Nate Horner, and our team followed the issue from that initial contact to a full reversal of the decision at the end of June. We are grateful for the leadership and support we received from government representatives like Minister Horner and Minister of Health, Jason Copping.
I was also extremely proud of what our ABP team accomplished. We worked quickly and diligently alongside the Canadian Cattle Association, the National Cattle Feeders’ Association, Alberta Pork, and provincial organizations Canada-wide, to bring this issue to the public’s attention. It worked, and consumers came to the defense of the beef industry – a testament to the work we’ve done to build a relationship with consumers and loyalty to the Alberta beef brand.
I would also like to commend our ABP Chair, Melanie Wowk, for her incredible leadership on this issue. When I asked Melanie if she would help us elevate the concern at a consumer awareness level, she said: “Tell me the time and place, and I will be there.” Melanie’s strong comments resonated with consumers nationwide. I even received feedback from eastern Canada confirming that people were affected by seeing our chair stand up publicly for the beef industry.
Of course, Melanie didn’t act alone. The ABP executive and staff worked together exceptionally well. It was our combined efforts and the contributions of other organizations that propelled the Canadian government to reverse their decision and remove ground beef from their policy directive. I offer my thanks to the ABP team, and the many other associations and industry organizations who defended farmers and ranchers.
One thing we learned from the FOP issue is that there is a real disconnect at the government level with agriculture. We now have an opportunity to build a better understanding of our beef industry, which is why we were thrilled to host the inaugural Alberta Beef Industry Stampede Summit on July 14, 2022.
ABP, along with Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association, Canadian Cattle Association and the Western Stock Growers Association brought together beef producers, industry stakeholders and politicians. ABP staff organized an exceptional event that strengthened relationships, helped build a foundation of understanding, and connected people to our industry. The event also created an opportunity for us to answer politicians’ questions about our industry. It was a great success.
We ended the summer at the Canadian Beef Industry Conference (CBIC) in Penticton, B.C. in August. There was great attendance and connections made across the industry. As we enter the busy season of fall gather, with cautious optimism about reduced feed costs and increased returns on the calf crop, I wish everyone a successful, profitable season. May this season also offer us time to “observe, remember, and compare” so we can elevate our operations and industry to best support a sustainable future.