Cattlemen have mixed perspectives on issues

The recent annual meeting of the Alberta Beef Producers organization was a lot less rambunctious than previous such events, except for one issue which could come to haunt the present provincial government. As with other commodity groups, the Alberta government’s Land Use Framework (LUF) initiative came under fire. But on the whole, most delegates were in a mellow mood perhaps reflecting higher cattle market prices; although those prices would have to be significantly higher if inflation were factored in.

Delegates seemed to have accepted their fate surrounding the loss of the mandatory cattle checkoff. They took some solace in seeing the government reinstate the $1 mandatory national checkoff. There was some irony in that change which saw the government taking some credit for giving back a portion of the checkoff that they arbitrarily took away in the first place. That now put into place the last legislative piece in order for checkoff to be collected on cattle and beef imports. It is estimated that the government initiated checkoff shambles has cost the cattle industry over $1 million that could have been directed to promotion and research.

Delegates were still perturbed with large feedlot operators who seem to be making the largest checkoff refund requests. Motions were debated on whether or not to have the names of those requesting checkoffs be published. In the end there was some doubt as to whether this would be legal under privacy legislation. Delegates decided that they should also begin lobbying the government to reinstate non-refundablity to the rest of the checkoff. That would seem a very remote hope unless there is a change in government at the next election.

The other issue that has become a regular topic of discussion at cattle producer meetings surrounds traceability and its related problems. Motions dealt with some practical problems with the use of CCIA tags. It would seem that present RFID technology is not able to deal with some major readability problems with eartags. Delegates once again reaffirmed their opposition to mandatory age verification which at present is being propped up by a per head subsidy from Alberta Agriculture. There was a feeling that once the subsidy ends, compliance will falter. Producers continue to maintain that the use of age verification should be market driven with proprietary information held by primary producers. It would also seem that the concept may have run its course in the face of the more convenient dentition ID used by US beef exporters.

The meeting did come to life when motions surrounding land use were debated. Delegate after delegate vehemently denounced the provincial government for passing Bills 19, 36 and 50 all of which implicated property rights. Some delegates expressed derogatory comments at the LUF process as well. The chairman of the ABP LUF committee provided delegates with further insights into how that process is developing.

If one were to gauge the emotional atmosphere surrounding that issue, it would seem that property rights has all the signs of becoming a major political issue during the next provincial election in the countryside. More so than city dwellers, property is a very visceral deep-seated issue with farmers and ranchers, as it strikes at the very nature of how they make their living, their way of life and their historical connection to the land. If the passage of the three aforementioned bills is any indication, the present government is badly misreading the response of folks in the countryside. Unless they change their present course abruptly, this issue may prove fatal to many rural government MLAs.

What is also becoming disconcerting to the cattle and beef industry is the steady decline in cow numbers over the past three years. That trend is already showing up in reduced domestic feeder cattle supplies.

To address that perceived present and future shortage, a number of feedlot operators are having their facilities inspected and approved to receive American feeder cattle. With the loonie more or less at par with the greenback, US feeders are becoming more attractive to large operators particularly those who have a significant slaughter cattle export business, which begs the question: Are feeder cattle born in the USA, bought and sold in US dollars, fed American corn and slaughtered in the USA considered Canadian just because they spent a short time on vacation in Canada? Just wondering.