Charlie Lasser was organic before it was even cool. The
Chetwynd, B.C. rancher has had a closed beef herd for 45 years, he has never
used fertilizers and chemicals on the ranch.
He called the other day looking for information on another
matter, but was also able to fill me in a bit on his operation. He was the
first person in the B.C. and Alberta Peace River regions to be certified
organic back in 1991.
Lasser runs a 240 head Limousin and Black Angus cross beef
herd and markets everything off the ranch. He sells live animals as opposed to
retail meat cuts. He’d recently shipped a liner load of cattle to an Edmonton
customer and had an order for another 100 head to another buyer planning to do
an organic beef promotion. He says he gets about $3 per pound for a hot dress
Organic beef production obviously fits in with Lasser’s
ranching and business philosophy.
He has organic certification and now he’s also going for SPCA certification
as a humane producer of livestock. The one further change he is making in
production practices is to switch from hot branding to freeze-dried branding of
cattle. The cattle aren’t out on Crown range, but just likes a brand on there
in case some one thinks it would be nice to take one or a few head home. Once
he completes that step his ranch can be certified as an organic and humane
It was interesting to hear how this all works him, and
apparently stands as what is the goal today of a “profitable and sustainable”
operation. He’s been at it for nearly 50 years so something must be working. It
has been many years since I was in Chetwynd, but as I recall it wasn’t exactly near
any major urban population. It goes to show you don’t necessarily need a large
organic customer base 10 minutes from your yard to make these things work.
Lasser’s operation ties in with a comment made by
Vermillion, Alberta rancher and consultant Sean McGrath in an upcoming column
in Grainews (see the April 1, 2013 issue) where he makes the point the strength
of the Canadian beef industry may be in taping into a wide range of niche
markets. Rather than producing beef cattle and hoping something fits somewhere
in different grades, producers could be fine tuning management, using their
production strengths, to produce cattle that have a specific market fit. Plenty
of room for conventional beef, grain fed, grass finished, natural, organic,
Kobe or whatever market you are targeting.
As an aside, I found it really interesting in a recent
article by Kim Nielsen, who has a small ranch at Rocky Mountain House, Alta.,
but now lives most of the year in Australia, who was explaining there is some
size of market in Australia for bullocks, which are grass finished steers four
to five YEARS of age. Now there’s a different system compared to Canada’s
crank-them-through a grain-finished feedlot in under 30 months.
Some how I doubt Charlie Lasser set sights 45 years ago on
producing beef for the trendy, usually-upscale organic market of 2013, but he’s
taken the strength of his land and his farming philosophy that works for him
and directed it over the years to this growing market.
And one other bonus. While he’s built a good business, he
also says he doesn’t worry about weeds and herbicide resistance. Lasser grows
grains and grass for feed, but if he does see a weed problem he cuts the crop
for silage. It makes good feed and the fermenting process kills any weed seeds.
He spoke at a herbicide resistance workshop one time, and pointed out 90 per
cent of weeds on his farm are controlled with timely cutting, while the
conference heard that repeat and much more expensive chemical treatments only
control about 40 per cent of weeds.
Obviously if you are producing 10,000 acres of wheat,
barley, oats and canola timely cutting for silage isn’t likely an option,
unless you can also stock up with 5,000 head of organic beef cattle through
which you market the crop.
Another organic weed control option, as I recall one time as
a kid, my dad offered to pay me a penny for every “Rocket” plant I pulled out
of the oat crop. (I never hear anyone talk about Rocket, but I think it is some
kind of wild mustard.) Anyway, that was a short lived venture, There seemed to
be so many in just a five-acre field, that even as a 10-year-old I knew I’d better find a different day-job.
Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in
Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]