It may be an oversimplification of what the Straw Man Beef Industry Initiative is about, but the effort is geared at creating a more organized and targeted Canadian beef production system, rather than a sometimes fractured and fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, every-man-for-himself operation.
The Straw Man phase of the process, co-ordinated by Alberta beef producers David Andrews and John Kolk, along with long time marketing specialist Kim McConnell, was just that…building a straw man…assembling the various sheafs of goals and opportunities for a profitable and competitive Canadian beef industry into a framework. So the framework all looks good, now what do we do about it? And that is phase two.
This isn’t a “yawner” exercise for cow-calf producers or any sector really. If the system ever gets working fully it can help one end of the whole beef chain say, “here are the markets or here is the consumer trend for beef” and then convey that opportunity back through the feeding and producer network, “now lets get out there and produce it” — a more efficient and hopefully more profitable system for all players. It is a system calling for more beef production to meet market needs, yet gauging itself not to wildly over supply.
WORKING AS ONE INDUSTRY
While most components to make the system work already exist, one big element to the success of this production and marketing strategy is co-operation — all sectors have to be on board — everyone has to be pulling in the same direction. And that may be the rub down the road. While there seems to be general support for the concept, there is also lots of independence in the beef industry — a lot of players are reluctant to reveal too many cards for fear a competitor may gain the upper hand.
Andrews, Kolk and McConnell, drawing on their own experience as well as wide consultation with all sectors of the industry developed the Straw Man framework and then presented it to two industry meetings in Canada. Input from those meetings lead to a final Straw Man report with several key recommendations.
NEW COUNCIL FORMED
With general support for the strategy, the Straw Man is now retired. The next phase is to hand the ball to a Council of Beef Leaders. This isn’t a new organization or association, but a committee representing all sectors of the industry. Members will include the Canadian Beef Breeds Council, Canada Beef, Canadian Cattleman’s Association, National Cattle Feeders Association, Youth Cattleman’s Council, packers/processors, retail and food service sectors. It will be up to that committee to develop the strategy and action plan — what has to happen to better co-ordinate the Canadian beef industry? Colin Jeffares, a recently retired Alberta assistant deputy minister of agriculture will shepherd initial meetings serving as council convener. The first meeting to review progress is set for March 2014.
Another key element of a working system is to develop a central database — a comprehensive inventory of what the industry is producing. Cow-calf producers, cattle feeders and packing plants all have to supply info for the database. On an individual basis privacy is protected, but collectively the database would have information on the overall cow-calf herd, the age and genetics of calves in the system, the numbers on feed, slaughter dates and carcass quality information. The new updated version of the existing Beef Information Exchange System (BIXS 2.0) is seen as the best repository for this information.
COMMUNICATIONS AND MEASUREMENT
The system also needs an effective communication flow of what the industry is producing and also feedback on markets and consumer trends. Recommendations also call for performance measurements and a targeting system — you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Canfax would be one important service in helping to establish benchmarks so the industry can compare itself and see where efficiencies can be gained and set goals.
FUNDING THE PROCESS
And the whole process will need a bit of funding. Marketing, promotion and a lot more research in all areas of livestock production are important and cost money. Details need to sorted out, but a new producer checkoff could range from an extra $1 per head at time of sale up to as much as $5 per head, which is the amount collected by the Meat and Livestock Australia agency. Packers may also pay a national check off levy, and levies against imported meats could also be increased. All options will be explored.
It is a big plan. It is an ambitious plan. The key is co-operation. Where there is a will there is a way — but if nothing changes then nothing changes. For a full copy of the Straw Man report visit the website: www.strawmanbeef.ca
Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]