Mark your calendar for the Alberta Beef Industry Conference

The Alberta Beef Industry Conference is less than two months away, taking place at the Sheraton Red Deer Hotel from March 12-14, 2019.

The event is one of Canada’s largest beef conferences and trade shows, and provides an opportunity for the industry to come together to learn, to network and to discover the latest products and innovations.

As one of the five hosts of the conference, the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association is delighted to work alongside Alberta Beef Producers, Alberta Auction Markets Association, Alberta Livestock Dealers and Order Buyers Association, and the Western Stock Growers’ Association.

Once again, there is a line-up of speakers who have a wealth of industry or subject expertise to share. We look forward to hearing their insights on the industry’s most pressing issues. Here are some of the highlights:

Brad Wall: Western Canada’s Economy: Risks and Opportunities; Offense and Defense 

Brad will speak about the current political landscape and its impact on Western Canada.

Amber MacArthur and Marty Seymour: If the Future is Different Than the Past, is Your Business Ready?

Learn what your business needs to do to adapt to changing times.

Chief Clarence Louie: Cowboys & Indians – Causing Disruption to Create Economic Prosperity

Hear how he turned a bankrupt band into a multi-faceted corporation that employs hundreds of people.

Dr. Frank Mitloehner: Sustainability in Beef – the Nexus Between Productivity and Environmental Performance

A look at environmental mitigation opportunities, especially in the areas of carbon emission reductions, welfare and health.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois: The Rise of the Conscious Carnivore? The Good, the Bad, and the Awfully Ugly

Advice on dealing with the vegetarian and vegan movements.

Marie-Noelle Desrochers: Trade Agreements That Matter for Canada

An insider’s perspective on governments’ approach to trade matters and the impact it has on the Canadian beef industry.

Brett House: Global Economic Outlook Amidst Rising Uncertainty

What’s ahead for the global economy.

Brett Stuart: Global Beef & Protein Outlook

A view of the global beef landscape, including international trade and health issues.

Brian Perillat: CanFax Market Update

The beef industry’s supply and demand dynamics, and current Canadian price trends.

Art Douglas: 2019-20 Weather Forecast

The upcoming forecast, and a discussion of the impact weather patterns have on the beef industry.

The ever-popular Danny Hooper returns as master of ceremonies, and comedian John Hastings will be entertaining us during the Taste of Alberta dinner on Wednesday evening.

Mark your calendars for another not-to-miss event – you can register here.

Canada’s Food Guide leaves room for beef on the table

With the release of Canada’s updated Food Guide earlier this week, beef producers are happy to see that Health Canada recognizes a place for beef in the healthy diet.

Some of the highlights of the new guide focus on healthy eating habits, such as cooking at home, limiting intake of processed foods, and drinking water rather than sugary drinks.

In its visual plate model, Health Canada suggests a diet consisting of half fruits and vegetables, one-quarter whole grains and one quarter proteins. It recommends choosing plant-based proteins more often, but in combination with other foods such as lean meats. 

Meats and plant-based foods are better together – the nutrient value of both foods increases when consumed as part of a meal. For example, the absorption of iron increases over 150 per cent when meat and legumes are combined on the plate.

Beef and other meats are among the most nutrient-rich sources of complete, quality proteins. To get a comparable amount of protein from plant-based foods would require consuming considerably more calories.

Many Canadians are overfed but undernourished – even though dietary trends show a decrease in meat and dairy consumption, consumption of processed and other nutrient-poor foods is on the rise. Health Canada’s recommendations to make healthier choices are aimed at encouraging Canadians to eat mindfully, and to eat a wide variety of healthy, nourishing foods.

All food production systems come with their own impacts and benefits. To replace Canadian beef with another protein source could, in fact, mean higher caloric and environmental impacts from other foods. Cattle feeders support consumers taking action on food waste reduction through sustainable food choices. Beef is a good example of a sustainable food choice because Canada is an exceptional place to grow beef and has one of the most sustainable agriculture systems in the world.

Real, unprocessed food

Because beef is typically eaten as part of a complete meal, rather than in isolation, it fits nicely with Health Canada’s recommendation to eat a variety of healthy foods and to limit highly processed foods.

When combined with vegetables and whole grains, a delicious portion of lean beef makes a complete, balanced meal. 

Preparing beef for a healthier diet

Beef is an excellent source of many essential nutrients including iron (in the bio-available heme form), zinc, vitamins B6 and B12, riboflavin, niacin and selenium. It also contains good fats such as ruminant trans-fats, which are linked to health benefits.

Health Canada recommends using herbs, spices and seasonings to add flavour, without adding salt or sugar. Check out the delicious recipes to be found at Think Beef and Alberta Beef where you will find inspiration for a healthy, delicious meal that fulfills the recommendations of Health Canada’s Food Guide.

You can learn more about the nutritional benefits of beef in ‘4 reasons you should include beef in your health, balanced diet’

Test your cattle feeders knowledge

Throughout 2018, we have provided you with insights and facts on Alberta’s cattle feeding industry. This holiday, take a few minutes to test how much you have learned from those posts.

The cattle feeders quiz has questions drawn from this year’s blogs. Some of the questions are easy, some a little trickier, and all the answers can be found in blog posts from 2018.

Answers:

1, B; 2, A; 3, B; 4, A; 5, A; 6, B; 7, C; 8, B

How did you do?

If you got all eight questions right, you’re a cattle feeder guru! If you got five to seven questions right, you’ve obviously been paying attention all year. If you got four or fewer, don’t worry — we’ll provide more great cattle feeder information throughout 2019.

Next week, we’ll be reviewing what our industry and our organization has been up to in the past year.

In the meantime, we wish you, and your friends and family a safe and happy holiday.

Beef producers vote to keep refundable check-off

Alberta’s beef producers have voted by a narrow margin to keep the mandatory beef check-off refundable.

A plebiscite on the issue was held between Oct. 19 and Nov. 27. Preliminary results showed that 51.3 per cent of producers voted to keep the refundable check-off. Final results will be shared on Dec. 11, after a two-week period during which members can contest the results.

The check-off is a levy paid to the Alberta Beef Producers (ABP), which is used to fund industry research and marketing. The levy is mandatory, but producers may apply for a full reimbursement.

The Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association (ACFA), and ABP were recommending a return to a non-refundable check-off to fund the New Era Beef Industry. Revenues from the non-refundable check-off would have been shared between ABP, ACFA and a new Alberta Beef Industry Development Fund (ABIDF), providing project funding for market development, research, education, consumer advocacy and industry collaboration.

Moving forward

Even though the plebiscite didn’t deliver the hoped-for result, it highlights the value of member-driven organizations that do not stand still. The organizations will now focus on moving forward with securing funding for industry research and marketing projects. ACFA will continue with its efforts in lobbying, advocacy, policy development, industry development, and other activites. As individual organizations and as an industry, the goal is to persist in the pursuit of continuous improvement.

“I want to thank everyone who took the time to engage in the discussion and to vote in the plebiscite,” said Ryan Kasko, ACFA chair. “ACFA will continue to work in a collaborative fashion with ABP, drive operational efficiencies, and work diligently with partners to ensure the health of the industry.” 

Alberta’s beef industry faces remarkable potential and ACFA will continue to take the lead and leverage opportunities for the benefit of its members, the cattle feeding sector, and the industry as a whole.

You can read more about how funds from a non-refundable check-off would have been used in ‘How funding for the new era beef industry will benefit all beef producers’.

Trans-Pacific trade deal opens new markets for Canada’s beef producers

A recently ratified agreement between the government of Canada and 10 other countries will provide tariff-free and/or competitive access to key markets in the Asia-Pacific region.

On Oct. 25, The Government of Canada became the fifth member nation to ratify the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

CPTPP countries that ratified before Canada were Japan, Mexico, Singapore and New Zealand. The sixth nation to ratify the deal was Australia on 31 October. Because the provisions of the agreement specify that it enters into effect 60 days after ratification by at least 50 per cent of the signatories (six of the eleven participating countries), it will come into force on 30 December 2018.

Canada’s agricultural producers had urged the federal government to be one of the first six to ratify the agreement, allowing Canada to benefit from the early rounds of negotiations and tariff cuts. For beef producers, early ratification is considered key to securing the best terms with the growing markets in Japan, Vietnam and Malaysia.

The Japanese market in particular holds huge potential for Canadian beef producers. The CPTPP will reduce the current 36.5 per cent tariff to 27.5 per cent on Canadian fresh beef and 26 per cent on Canadian frozen beef. Further cuts will eventually bring the tariff down to nine per cent for fresh beef, while frozen beef will ultimately be completely exempt.

The National Cattle Feeders’ Association (NCFA) and Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association (ACFA) are delighted the Canadian federal government worked so diligently to ratify the deal. The government used a rare walk-around process to pass the 14 Orders in Council required to complete the process.

“Canada is a trading nation,” Jim Carr, Minister of International Trade Diversification, said in a statement announcing the ratification. “The CPTPP will add nearly half a billion consumers to the growing list of places where Canadian businesses can compete and succeed on a level playing field. The ratification of the CPTPP represents another important step toward trade diversification to help the middle class and those working hard to join it to compete and succeed in the global marketplace.”

Helping students choose careers in agriculture 

Canada’s farmers are experiencing a chronic labour crisis. While they struggle to find workers from a dwindling labour pool, young people leaving rural schools often head to urban centres in search of opportunities.

Organizations such as Inside Education and Agriculture in the Classroom dedicate themselves to bringing agricultural education into the grade school curriculum. Their hope is that by providing students with information on the opportunities in rural areas, more young people will consider a future in agriculture, or in an agricultural secondary education program.

The Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association (ACFA) sees this and other learning options as valuable for the future of the cattle feeding business. 

Another program, Alberta Education’s Career and Technology Foundations (CTF) is offered to students in grades 5 to 9. As a career development program, it helps students explore their interests and passions, developing learning experiences based on potential careers and occupations.

The program is based on 14 learning outcomes, and students are taught vital skills such as problem solving, planning, decision-making, collaboration and more. Teachers are given the freedom to source their own materials and create lessons that relate to the interests of their students.

To help them create the most engaging and relevant programs, teachers have access to a suite of CTF Challenges, or student-focused learning experiences. Examples include Water for Life in which students explore local watersheds from various perspectives, or What’s your Business?, in which students design, create, market and sell a product, performance or service.

Teachers also have access to external resources, such as those offered by Ag for Life.

An opportunity for agricultural producer groups

Alberta Education has encouraged external stakeholders to become involved in creating CTF Challenges based on their own industry or sector. Templates are provided to help create suitable challenges. Some examples of industry-specific challenges include marketing, vehicle maintenance and energy.

ACFA is working to produce a variety of challenges which will relate the cattle feeding business to curriculum-based outcomes and provide insights into the opportunities that exist in the industry and the different skills required.

Some of the other resources and programs available to teachers and students can be found on ACFA’s Education and Training Programs page.

Is grass-fed beef better?

Image Credit: KCL Cattle Company Ltd.

Eating well is no simple matter. Our global marketplace offers a world of choices, and the information available on those food choices can be contradictory and complicated. In today’s blog post we explain the difference between grass-fed and grain-finished beef and explore their nutritional values and environmental impacts.

Grass-fed and grain-finished beef explained

All cattle eat grass and forage for most of their lives. This means they graze in the pasture during the summer months and are then fed forages such as silage (fermented grass crops) or hay during the winter.

Some cattle are grass- and forage-fed for their entire lives.

Other cattle are slowly moved to a diet consisting of grains such as corn or barley, for about three or four months before they go to market. This diet helps the cattle put on weight faster, and produces a higher quality, more marbled meat. This generally takes place in a feedlot.

A nutritional comparison

According to Canada Beef, grass-fed beef is leaner than grain-finished beef by about two to four grams of fat per 100 grams of trimmed meat. Dietitians agree this is an insignificant amount in the context of the amount of fat we consume on a daily basis. 

Both types of beef contribute nutrients such as iron, zinc, vitamin B, calcium and potassium, as well as small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, and both contain the same amount of cholesterol.

You can read more about the dietary impacts of beef in your diet in ‘4 ways proposed changes to the Canada Food Guide could be bad for our health’.

Environmental impact

Beef production, perhaps surprisingly, benefits the environment in many ways, because the industry is helping preserve Canada’s natural grasslands. Pastures help maintain watersheds, sequester carbon, prevent erosion, support biodiversity and provide habitats for a variety of different species.

That being said, grain-finished beef has a lower carbon footprint than grass-fed beef because of the higher efficiency of this finishing method. Grass-fed cattle are typically harvested at between 20 to 24 months of age, and at a weight of 1,000 to 1,400 pounds. Grain-fed cattle, on the other hand, are harvested at about 14 to 18 months of age and at a weight of about 1,400 to 1,500 pounds. 

Because the grain-finishing phase is so much more efficient than grass-finishing, resulting in more food in less time, grain-fed beef has a lower carbon footprint than grass-fed.

‘4 things you should know about beef production and the environment’ explains more about the environmental impacts of the beef industry.

How regulatory changes could help trade with the U.S.

This week, we’re exploring recent changes to federal regulations that will help ease the trade in live cattle between Canada and the United States. It’s a follow-up to an earlier post in which we explained why trade with the U.S. is so important to Canada’s beef producers.

The governments of both Canada and the U.S. have strict regulations under which cattle can be imported into their respective countries.

One particular concern is to identify where an animal was born in the event of a disease outbreak. The required inspections, paperwork and documentation can be onerous. 

The Restricted Feeder Cattle Program

The Restricted Feeder Cattle Program was implemented to simplify keeping track of feeder cattle imported from the U.S. to a feedlot in Canada and then directly to the processor. The program allows importation without test requirements on a year-round basis but with proper identification and certification. 

The movement of these feeder cattle must be direct to a feedlot registered with the program, and from there, direct to processing. Because these cattle will not be going anywhere else, it makes them much simpler to trace back, so it was possible to relax the regulations.

Why there was a need for change

Typically, more feeder cattle and finished cattle are shipped from Canada to the U.S. than in the other direction.   But in 2017, market conditions changed, and between 150,000 and 200,000 head of feeder cattle were imported into Canada from the U.S. 

The National Cattle Feeders’ Association (NCFA) recognized that changes to the Restricted Feeder Cattle Program could make the process easier and less costly for Canadian feedlot owners, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) accepted NCFA’s suggestions. 

A summary of the changes

Recent changes to the Restricted Feeder Cattle Program have focused on the following areas:

1. Identification – including the information to be included on RFID tags.

2. Vehicle sealing – making allowance for rest stops for cattle en route.

3. Documentation for importation and border requirements – including allowances for shipments contained in multiple trucks.

4. Inspection at destination, approved feedlot – which can, in some cases, be completed electronically, based on a reading of the RFID tags.

For feedlot owners who are importing large numbers of feeder cattle, these changes will have a  significant impact on their costs, and their ability to justify the import of cattle from the U.S.

Maintaining a regulatory regime that protects people and animals, while simultaneously facilitating free and open trade, will promote a continued, mutually beneficial relationship. That’s why livestock producers will be watching negotiations to update the North American Free Trade Agreement closely.

You can read more about this in the post, Why free North American trade is good for the beef industry and Canada.

Myth or fact? 5 beef myths debunked

Have you ever heard people say that eating meat is bad for our environment and our planet? In this latest Myth vs Fact post, we’re exploring some common misconceptions about beef production, so you can eat that next steak with a clear conscience.

#1 Beef cattle are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions

Cattle account for only 2.4 per cent of Canada’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – compared to 28 per cent for transportation. Cattle in Canada also produce some of the lowest GHGs in the world thanks to best practices developed through ongoing research. 

#2 We don’t need to eat meat – we can simply substitute it with plant proteins

Plant proteins such as beans and lentils are wholesome, nourishing foods. But it is wrong to assume that they can provide the same amount of protein per unit of food as beef. One 75 gram (2.6 ounces) serving of beef contains the same amount of protein as about two cups of beans. The plant-based protein is also not as easily digested and is missing important nutrients such as Vitamin B12 and heme iron – the type of iron most readily absorbed by the body.

Like beef, plant proteins have an important part to play in a balanced diet, but they cannot be compared, portion for portion, as a substitute.

#3 We need to eliminate beef production for the sake of the environment

Eliminating beef production would help reduce our GHG emissions by a small amount, but there are other significant reasons why pastureland is good for the environment:

    • Only 26 per cent of our native rangelands remain intact in Canada, and those would be lost without grazing animals to maintain their health. As an ecosystem, those grasslands support biodiversity and help retain water.
    • Grasslands provide important habitats for migratory birds, species at risk and other wildlife.
    • Grasslands store carbon, which would be released into the atmosphere if they were cultivated.

The relationship between cattle and wildlife is recognized by the World Wildlife Fund in its ‘2017 Annual Plowprint Report’.

#4 Feeding cattle is a waste of resources that should be used to benefit people

Cattle and other grazing animals in Canada are typically raised on land, and fed foods that might otherwise be unusable:

    • Most pastureland is unsuitable for crop production.
    • 86 per cent of all cattle feed in Canada is not fit for human consumption. 
    • Only nine per cent of cropland in Canada is used to grow grain specifically for cattle feed.
    • Food animals also play a huge role in recycling the by-products of human food production. For instance, cattle are fed the leftover grains from the production of beer, whiskey and other alcohols, which would otherwise be considered waste.

#5 Our food production is being taken over by huge, corporate factory farms

Ninety-eight per cent of Canadian farms, both large and small, are owned and operated by families. Some have been in the family for five or more generations. These farmers have been raised on the land, and they care deeply about preserving it for their own children and generations to come. 

They work hard to raise their animals in comfortable, low-stress environments. 

They understand that if animals are unhealthy or stressed they will not grow to their full potential. Even in an intensive livestock setting, healthy, well cared for animals help ensure the health of the operation.

So, next time you’re at the grocery store, wondering what to make for dinner, you won’t do better than a good serving of Canadian beef. It’s good for you, and raised ethically, sustainably and humanely.

For more in our Myth vs Fact posts, check out ‘3 feedlot myths busted’ and ‘Busted! 5 beef myths that don’t stand up to the facts’.

Why free North American trade is good for the beef industry and Canada

Since the inception of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), in 1994, the beef industries of Canada, U.S. and Mexico have essentially been operating in one single, North American market. In fact, the beef industry is a good example of how the original design and intent behind NAFTA has been successfully accomplished.

In this integrated market, processed beef (fresh, chilled and frozen), as well as live cattle, move across the border relatively unimpeded and entirely tariff-free. The U.S. is Canada’s largest export customer for beef, and Canada’s single largest import supplier.

Did you know?
In 2016, Canada exported 270,00 metric tonnes of beef (75 per cent of our total beef exports) to the U.S. In the same year, 63 per cent of Canada’s beef imports (186,000 metric tonnes) came from the U.S. That same year, Canada also exported 765,395 head of live cattle, primarily to the U.S. The U.S. exported 30,291 head of live cattle to Canada.

 

Why an integrated market benefits beef producers on both sides of the border

Free and open trade between Canada and the U.S. has had two significant benefits.

First, the trade in live cattle and beef products ensure that both countries have a source of supply to meet the demand within their own domestic markets. A steady, and sufficient supply of cattle is critical to the efficient operation of feedlots and beef-packing plants.

Second, the vigorous and dynamic trade in live cattle and beef products has injected a healthy dose of competition into the beef industry on both sides of the border. This has resulted in a more efficient, productive industry that is highly competitive in the global beef market. For example, beef from Canada and the U.S. is proving attractive in the Asia Pacific marketplace, despite the geographical advantages of competitive beef exporters such as Australia and New Zealand. This is because of our ability to compete on quality and price.

The way forward for the integrated market.

Cattle producers on both sides of the border are well aware of the benefits of free and open trade. The National Cattle Feeders’ Association (NCFA) has been working with counterparts in the U.S., such as the Texas Cattle Feeders’ Association (TCFA), the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), and the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) to address any issues that could be an impediment to the continuation of NAFTA.

One such issue concerns the maintenance of a regulatory regime that provides essential safeguards for animal health and disease prevention without imposing unnecessary economic costs or barriers to trade. The right regulatory balance is crucial.

In an upcoming blog post we will write about a set of reforms to Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regulations that will make importing and exporting live cattle easier, less time consuming, and less costly – helping to remove impediments to trade, smooth the border, and speed the pace of commerce. Stay tuned.