Cattle feeders head to Ottawa to support NAFTA negotiations

Canada’s beef producers are anxious to preserve the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) because it is a great example of how free trade should work. U.S. President Donald Trump, however, has threatened to pull his country out of the pact.

What NAFTA has meant to the Canadian beef industry

NAFTA’s tri-lateral market access — without tariffs or quotas for either beef or live cattle — has resulted in healthy trade between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

According to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, in 2016, Canada exported 270,000 tonnes of beef and 764,000 head of live cattle to the U.S., valued at more than $3 billion ($1.7 billion was beef and $1.4 billion live cattle). A further 16,000 tonnes of Canadian beef valued at $109 million went to Mexico, making that country Canada’s fourth largest beef export market.

In fact, almost 72 per cent of Canada’s beef exports go to the U.S., and six per cent to Mexico. Almost 59 per cent of our beef imports come from the U.S.

Beef industry submission to federal governments supports NAFTA

In May 2017, the National Cattle Feeders Association (NCFA) joined with other Canadian beef industry groups in a submission to the governments of Canada, U.S. and Mexico, stressing that NAFTA works well for beef and the relevant provisions should not be changed. The arrangement has produced an integrated North American beef industry that benefits the three countries, and has allowed Canada to build an industry that is also more competitive internationally.   

While the NAFTA talks could lead to a fine-tuning of some details – such as the elimination or reform of certain border regulations and export impediments, and the aligning and harmonizing of veterinary drug approvals – we believe it’s important for Canada’s beef producers, and the Canadian economy, to preserve this agreement.

How Canada’s beef industry is represented at the negotiation table

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has a trade division that provides advice to the chief NAFTA negotiator. The trade team has received input and advice from industry representatives, and has held briefings for industry stakeholders prior to each round of the NAFTA talks. NCFA is planning to be at the upcoming briefings for the second round that will be held in Ottawa on September 23-27. 

How Canada’s beef industry could be negatively impacted by changes to NAFTA

Any changes that would restrict the free flow of live cattle and boxed beef across the borders to the U.S. and Mexico could have a profound effect on Canada’s beef producers. Another concern is any reimplementation of Country of Origin Labelling (COOL), which has been historically damaging to the beef industry.

You can read the full submission to the governments of Canada, U.S. and Mexico  here.

Helping cattle feeders manage business risk

Every business comes with risk, but the savvy business person is one who manages and minimizes those risks.

That’s why ACFA partnered with Lethbridge College to create an Agriculture Business Risk Management (AgBRM) program. Available online, the program is designed specifically for managers and owners of agri-businesses, such as beef, pork, grain and oilseeds.

We spoke with Lyndsay Smith, industry liaison for agriculture at Lethbridge College’s Centre for Applied Arts & Sciences, to learn more about the new program. 

“Alberta Cattle Feeders identified the need for an increased level of knowledge of agriculture business risk,” said Lyndsay. “At about the same time, Lethbridge College and the University of Lethbridge had received a $5 million donation from Cor Van Raay, one of Southern Alberta’s most well-known agricultural entrepreneurs and a leading cattle producer, to develop the Cor Van Raay Southern Alberta Agribusiness Program,” she said. “It was a good fit for Lethbridge College and ACFA to partner to develop the online AgBRM program as the first initiative.”

The course is aimed at owners and managers of agricultural businesses. “Since the program focuses on financial and commodity risk management, it will help industry members face the volatility challenges we have seen in the commodity markets,” said Lyndsay. 

Flexibility to fit busy work schedules

Because the course is available online, students can fit it in around their work schedules. It is divided into 28 modules and two capstone (or culminating) courses. Students who do not wish to work toward the full certificate can take any modules that interest them.

The certificate focuses on financial and commodity price risk management. This includes:

    • Statistics for Agribusiness (optional)
    • Effective Communications
    • Financial Literacy
    • Currency
    • Introduction to Market Tools
    • Government Policy and Marketing
    • Market Fundamentals
    • Market Tools
    • Risk Tolerance and Policy
    • Market Equity
    • Successful Planning in Agribusiness. 

Healthy business, healthy economy

Business Risk Management has been a focus of the provincial government’s Growing Forward 2 (GF2) suite of products and services. GF2 provides “programs and services to achieve a profitable, sustainable, competitive and innovative agriculture, agri-food and agri-products industry that is market-responsive, and that anticipates and adapts to changing circumstances, and is a major contributor to the well-being of Canadians,” according to the province’s website.

Although grant applications are not currently being accepted, Lethbridge College’s AgBRM program is very much in alignment with Growing Forward, and ACFA believes that training business owners and managers in business risk management is a key contributor to a healthy economy.

You can read more about how ACFA contributes to a vibrant, healthy cattle feeding industry on our Initiatives page.

Why Alberta’s farmers are crying out for a plastics recycling program

Plastics are commonly used on Alberta’s farms, for instance in the form of baler twine, bale wrap, silage tarps, and feed bags. But how to responsibly dispose of them is an ongoing problem as their use increases.

To date, much of this material cannot be recycled because it cannot be burned or buried, leaving farmers with the problem of what they should do with it.

Working group addresses issue of plastics recycling

In December 2016, a working group was formed to find solutions to the problem of agricultural plastics recycling. The Agricultural Plastics Recycling Group consists of representatives from the following organizations:

Because the provincial government has not provided direction on a policy for Extended Producer Responsibility for agricultural plastics, the group decided at its December meeting to start by bringing stakeholders together on the topic. From January to June 2017, the group met with more than half a dozen producer groups (representing dairy, beef, and crop farmers, among others) to discuss the topics and issues of ag plastics waste and recycling.

One of the group’s conclusions was the need for a provincial stewardship program to provide a responsible, sustainable solution for agricultural plastic recycling. This need was also identified by Alberta’s Agricultural Service Board. It had passed a resolution in 2016, that the Ministry of Environment and Parks and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (Research) should develop and implement an agricultural plastics recycling program modelled after the pilot program in Saskatchewan.

Drafting a policy framework

The Agricultural Plastics Recycling Association decided at a meeting in June 2017 that its next step would be to host a half-day meeting with all interested stakeholders to work on a draft policy framework to present to the provincial government. This meeting took place in August 2017. Alberta Environment and Parks provided a provincial update while discussion points included program examples from other jurisdictions, and the technical realities of manufacturing agricultural plastics.

Producer groups were given an opportunity to provide feedback on what they need from a plastics recycling program. ACFA noted there are a host of stewardship programs for other materials that could inform the agriculture community about how to deal with handling and recycling plastics. While most of these programs are user-pay, ACFA pointed out that there needs to be some involvement and commitment from suppliers in any program. This may be in the form of providing infrastructure such as plastic rollers and bins, to helping with initial start-up costs or awareness advertising.

How would a provincially regulated stewardship program affect Alberta producers?

A provincially regulated recycling program would ensure that producers in all agricultural-intensive regions of the province would have access to recycling programs. It’s understood that there will likely be an Environmental Handling Fee applied to agricultural plastics purchases to fund the recycling program, but this is a problem which requires an affordable, responsible and sustainable solution.

Environmental stewardship is one of the four primary pillars on which ACFA focuses its activities. You can read more about this on our Environment Pillar page.

Meeting with MPs helps foster understanding of cattle feeders’ issues

One of the primary mandates for both ACFA and NCFA is to act as an information source for government policy makers, and to build champions for Canadian agriculture and agri-food. 

Every year, when Parliament breaks for the summer, we get the opportunity to reconnect with MPs as they return to their constituencies. On Aug. 22, NFCA’s Bryan Walton, president and CEO, and Casey Vander Ploeg, vice-president, met with MPs and feedlot operators to discuss a number of pressing issues facing cattle feeders.

Who attended the meeting

The meeting was attended by Rachel Harder, MP for Lethbridge, Glen Motz, MP for Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner and John Barlow, MP for Foothills.

In addition to Bryan and Casey, the ACFA’s members were represented by feedlot operators James Bekkering, Leighton Kolk, Rick Paskal, Cody Schooten, Shane Schooten and Larry Sears.

Important industry issues to watch for

Meetings such as this provide an opportunity for a semi-formal conversation about the issues and concerns of cattle feeders. This gives their representatives in Parliament the information they need for informed and balanced decision making. Some of the issues discussed at the meeting included:

1) Trade. Always a top priority, the agenda included updates on the following trade issues:

    • Trade with China. John Barlow provided a report on a recent Governor General’s Mission to China, which he attended. In addition, a recent agreement to expand U.S. exports to China has left Canada behind, and the need for the federal government to secure the same access for Canada was discussed.
    • NAFTA, and its importance to the cattle feeding industry.
    • Trans-Pacific Partnership, which needs to be altered and rebooted since the U.S. has pulled out.

2) Labour, and the chronic agriculture labour shortage both in Alberta and throughout Canada.

3) Rural Infrastructure.

4) Transportation Regulations.

5) Canada Food Guide.

As with any such meetings, we are confident this meeting provided government officials with a better understanding of the issues facing Alberta’s cattle feeders, and how to support them as they continue to feed Canadians and contribute to the economy.

You can read more about the cattle feeders’ top issues in ‘5 feedlot issues to watch for in 2017’.

4 ways proposed changes to the Canada Food Guide could be bad for our health

For 40 years, Health Canada has urged Canadians to follow its dietary guidelines, and using the Canada Food Guide is considered a basic reference when it comes to healthy eating.

As we learn more about nutrition and health, it makes sense that recommendations will change over time, and the Guide should be kept updated. But recently proposed changes have many people, including doctors, worried.

Of particular concern to Canada’s beef industry is a recommendation that Canadians eat less meat. They are encouraged to replace animal proteins with plant-based proteins, partly for health reasons and partly for environmental considerations.

Why 717 Canadian physicians disagree with Health Canada

In July 2017, a group of 717 Canadian physicians and allied health professionals sent an open letter to the Canadian Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion expressing their concerns about several aspects of the new Guide, including the recommendation to eat less red meat. These health professionals have been successfully using food and diet to help reverse disease and made the following points:

    • The Guide continues to recommend reducing consumption of saturated fats, despite “essentially overwhelming evidence now that saturated fat is not harmful in the diet and does not cause heart disease, but rather that the low fat dietary pattern has very likely caused harm”.
    • The caution against red meat does not stand up to “rigorous clinical trial data which does not demonstrate any negative health consequences from eating meat.” The physicians cited a recent review which shows no negative influence on cardiovascular risk factors with red meat intake of more than 0.5 servings per day.

“The advice to eat less red meat may already be having some unintended consequences. A recent report by Public Health England shows that 25% of working age women do not have enough iron in their diet, and that almost half of teenage girls are at risk of iron-deficiency anemia. Encouraging all population groups to eat less red and processed meat … is not helpful and places women at risk of iron deficiency and related anemia.”

You can read the full letter here.

Four ways the new Guide could be counter-productive

    1. The Guide plans to eliminate the meat category and replace it with a proteins category. The implication that all proteins are created equal is misleading – red meats are the best source of high-quality, dietary protein relative to caloric intake.
    2. Red meats are an excellent part of a balanced diet because they are so rich in nutrients such as zinc, iron and Vitamin B12.
    3. Saturated fats are now known to play an important role in a healthy, balanced diet.
    4. Dietary guidelines should be first and foremost about nutrition, rather than environmental considerations.

Why environmental considerations don’t belong in nutritional recommendations

Nutrition and the environment are diverse issues that should not be confused. According to Tom Lynch-Staunton, issues manager for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, “it’s absolutely important for us as an industry to look at ways to improve our environmental impacts, but the food guide should be about nutrition; about human health, which is complex enough.”

“The Guide should provide recommendations for a variety of different diets so that people can get the best nutrition possible, and not confuse that with other issues such as the environment.”

Tom also explained that the environmental impacts of agriculture as an industry are incredibly complex.

“It’s very misleading to look at one measurement, such as greenhouse gas emissions per pound of beef,” he said. “Although the data suggests that cattle produce the most methane emissions of any livestock, we also know that cattle can provide great benefits to the environment – they use food sources that we can’t use, such as feed grains or crop residues, and they are able to graze natural grasslands that aren’t very well suited to farming crops or vegetables. We also know that grasslands promote biodiversity, providing wildlife habitat, a water filtration system and nutrient dispersion, as well as storing huge amounts of carbon.”

You can read about some of the research into greenhouse gas emissions in these blog posts:

How farm tours can help the agriculture labour crisis

One day in mid-July, a group of people from across Canada, toured Chinook Feeders in Nanton, Alberta to get an on-the-ground feel for what goes on in a cattle-feeding operation.   

The group from Agriculture in the Classroom – an organization dedicated to enhancing the knowledge, understanding and appreciation of agriculture in everyday life – was just one of many such tours that happen at Canadian farms throughout the year.

cattle being vaccinated and implanted

An industry working together

Even though the people touring Chinook Feeders on that day were already involved in agriculture or food production, it’s helpful for them to be aware of all the different types of agriculture being practised. What better way for them to become ambassadors for an industry that has so many career opportunities and possibilities for job seekers?

Karen Carle, the Alberta representative for Agriculture in the Classroom explained: “for this year’s tour in Alberta, we wanted to highlight the diversity of the agriculture and agri-food industry. In addition to the feedlot, we toured a spin (small plot intensive) farm in Calgary, an oilseed innovation company, an elk farm and a honey producer. In addition, we held sharing sessions where we come together to collaborate and learn from initiatives going on in each province. This year we also had a public trust panel to learn from industry experts and explore the role ag education can play in building public trust.”

Aside from the tours, Ag in the Classroom’s primary activity is providing curriculum-based teaching resources to schools. Some of their initiatives include:

    • Canadian Agricultural Literacy Week (CALW). More than 95,000 students and 3,500 classrooms have been visited by industry speakers and readers across Canada.
    • Development of a national high school teaching tool, All About Food, with a comprehensive fact book and accompanying interactive website, with teacher guide.
    • International Year of Pulses education components in partnership with Pulse Canada for 2016.

Ag in the Classroom uses these tools to help ensure that young people have complete, balanced information about the opportunities available to them in agriculture.

Why is it important to get agriculture into the curriculum?

Canadian farmers are dealing with a chronic labour crisis. There are many reasons for this, including rising retirement, the seasonal nature of the work, the often harsh working conditions and the long hours. Another reason is the tendency for young people to want to head for the cities after leaving school. Ag in the Classroom provides an opportunity for students to see the flip side of those factors and discover the many careers available and the opportunities that exist.

“Many teachers want their students to learn about agriculture, but without the right programs and resources to support them, they don’t always know where to start,” said Karen. “Ag in the Classroom is really about providing accurate, balanced, current and science-based information about agriculture and packaging it in a way that teachers can use in the classroom. With most people removed from life on the farm, and so much misinformation circulating online, Ag in the Classroom’s role is more important than ever.”

Another program that teaches students about careers in their rural communities is Career Connections, which we featured in ‘How cattle feeders are helping create a future for young people in agriculture’.

You can read more about the agricultural labour crisis in ’12 must-know facts about the agriculture labour crisis (and why it matters to Canadians)’.

How these 4 strategic priorities will build a better Alberta cattle feeding industry

It is good governance for an organization to revisit its vision and mission to make sure it is meeting the needs of everyone it works with.

The ACFA did just that in March 2017 during a three-day strategic planning session in Canmore, AB that involved the board of directors, staff and industry partners. 

The goal was to make sure we are staying true to our mandate – supporting our members and the industry we serve. We also wanted to ensure our members are represented accurately and fairly when we work with our stakeholders, including partners and the provincial government. 

Our main areas of focus

Our first task was to identify the primary opportunities and challenges that affect Alberta’s cattle feeders. As we continue to strengthen our working relationship with all levels of government, we are primarily focused on the following:

Our vision and mission

Our March session also involved a close examination of our organizational vision and mission. Through constructive conversation and feedback, we developed statements that more accurately reflect who we are, what we do and what we will achieve.

Our new vision and mission are:

Vision: championing a sustainable cattle feeding sector in Alberta

Mission: pursuing innovative and collaborative solutions for a thriving Alberta beef industry

Our strategic priorities

Our updated strategic plan will help ensure ACFA remains accountable and relevant to itself, its membership, and our sector. We also want to make certain we communicate effectively with stakeholders and government.

As we implement our new strategic plan, association project areas will be reviewed and approved within the context of the following strategic priorities:

Strategic Priority 1 – We will build the ACFA membership by delivering value to our members

Strategic Priority 2 – We will engage with the provincial government to strengthen the health and vitality of the cattle feeding sector in Alberta

Strategic Priority 3 – We will collaborate with partners to advance the industry

Strategic Priority 4 – We will strengthen ACFA governance

Our ability to move forward with clarity on our top issues, our mission and vision, and our strategic priorities will help us more effectively support our membership, the cattle feeding sector and Alberta’s beef industry.

To learn more about our organization, check out ‘5 must-know facts about the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association’.

Bill 17: Farm workers’ right to unionize bad for both farms and employees

The provincial government’s move to grant farm workers the right to form a union, known as Bill 17, raises concerns about the legislation’s impact on farms and ranches.

While the Alberta Agriculture Farm and Ranch Safety Coalition (AgCoalition) and Alberta’s agriculture industry understand the importance and value of many of these changes in the law, they do not feel the application of the labour code to farms and ranches will result in more healthy, fair or safe workplaces.

In a previous blog post, we presented the straight facts on Bill 17 and unionization in Alberta’s agriculture industry. Now, here is the industry’s perspective on how Bill 17 could affect agriculture in Alberta:

Changes that will affect farmers and ranchers

Alberta’s revised Labour Relations Code will apply to the agricultural sector, and will give waged, non-family employees the ability to unionize — if they choose — and to bargain collectively.

The maximum duration of a union drive has been expanded from 90 days to 180, giving employees and union representatives a much longer period to organize and recruit union membership.

If more than 65 per cent of employees demonstrate an intention to join, a vote is not necessary to certify a union.

The negative impact of unionization  

This hybrid certification process would rob employees of their democratic right to a secret ballot and could result in undue pressure on an employee, either from union representatives or fellow employees, to support unionization. Extensive research shows employees are more honest about their feelings towards unionization when given the opportunity to make the decision privately.

If more than 40 but less than 65 per cent of employees demonstrate an intention to join, a secret ballot vote must be held.

The 65 per cent threshold, combined with the lack of a minimum number of employees required to form a union, could put smaller operations at a particular disadvantage. For example, an operation with three employees could unionize almost immediately — without the knowledge of all employees or the employer — should two employees sign a union card.

The bill proposes to exclude family members from the Labour Relations Code, and will allow government to appoint a Public Emergency Tribunal (PET) to end a dispute and arbitrate an agreement, if a strike or lockout could harm livestock or damage crops.

While the formation of a PET would protect crops and livestock, it could take a long time for a tribunal to form and make a decision, allowing for potential damage to crops and livestock. Removal of the right to strike/lockout would avoid this situation altogether.

Even though it was strongly opposed by agriculture industry members, Bill 17 also introduced first contract arbitration. This type of legislation will damage the industry’s employer-employee relationships and excludes the farming/ranching community from participating in the resolution process.

The government’s Fair and Family-Friendly Workplaces Act information page provides more information on the changes proposed under Bill 17. The AgCoalition has also written an analysis of Bill 17 (PDF.)

And check out this Edmonton Journal op-ed by Ken Kobly, president and CEO of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce for a look at how damaging Bill 17 could be to the economy.

6 straight facts about Bill 17, unions and farms

The provincial government is proposing changes to Alberta’s labour legislation that could have significant implications for employers and employees. Among the proposed changes are some that relate to the right to form a union.

Discussions about unionization can elicit emotional responses – both from those opposed and those in favour. That can make it hard to find an unbiased source of information, so on this week’s blog we’re providing the straight facts.

Here’s the low-down on the proposed changes:

Unionization on farms

  1. Alberta’s Labour Relations Code will apply to the agricultural sector, and will give wages, non-family employees the ability to unionize if they choose, and to bargain collectively.
  2. If more than 65 per cent of employees demonstrate an intention to join, a vote is not necessary to certify a union.
  3. If between 40 per cent and 65 per cent of employees demonstrate an intention to join, a secret ballot vote must be held for a union to be certified.
  4. The Labour Relations Board will have the authority to certify a union.
  5. There will be a short, mandated timeline for certification (or for certification to be revoked), for early determination of the 65 per cent threshold, and for an expedited vote if the threshold is not met. All votes will be on a set schedule.
  6. Specific amendments will exclude family members from the Labour Relations Code, and will allow government to appoint a Public Emergency Tribunal to end a dispute and arbitrate an agreement, if a strike or lockout could harm livestock or damage crops.

Other proposed changes related to farm operations

Unionization isn’t the only hot topic when it comes to unions and farms. Others include youth employment standards, guaranteed, job-protected leaves and more. Here are the changes that relate specifically to farm and ranch standards:

  • Family members will be exempt from all employment standards when working on the family farm.
  • Minimum wage and youth standards will apply to all waged, non-family employees.
  • All farm workers will be exempt from hours of work and overtime requirements.
  • Waged, non-family employees will be entitled to a day off or straight-time pay on general holidays, or a day off in lieu, and vacation pay will be calculated on total wages, rather than on a maximum of 44 hours per week.
  • If employer and employee can’t agree on days of rest, four days off must be provided for every 28 days worked.

The government’s Fair and Family-Friendly Workplaces Act information page provides more information on the changes proposed under Bill 17. And you can read the concerns expressed by the AgCoalition, here.

How technology helped reduce the impact of a bovine tuberculosis outbreak

A disease outbreak is one of the most tragic things that can happen in any industry that relies on crops or livestock. In September 2016, the Canadian beef industry was faced with an outbreak of Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) – a disease that had the potential to devastate our cattle producers’ operations.

Fortunately, in this case, the outbreak was brought under control, and its impact minimized, using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. Read on to find out how.

What happens when disease is discovered

When the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) notified the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) that a case of bovine TB had been detected in a cow from Alberta, the first step was to identify the farm of origin. This was quickly achieved through a combination of RFID tags, brand identification tattoos, metal tags and farm tags.

The next step was an investigation so that control measures could be put in place to help prevent the spread of the disease. According to the CFIA, the investigation’s first stage involved identifying all the animals from that farm, and any that had encountered them.

Phase two of the investigation required tracing all animals that had left the infected farm in the last five years, and also tracing any animals that they had come into contact with.

During the third phase, CFIA identified the herds from which animals had been introduced into the infected herd in the past five years. The goal here was to identify the source of the infection, but the reality is that it cannot always be positively confirmed.

Once the infected animals had been identified, and farms they’d been on were traced, any adult cattle that could have come into contact with the infected animals were quarantined and tested to verify whether the disease had spread to other farms.

By the time the outbreak was contained, approximately 11,500 head of cattle had been humanely destroyed, and 14,000 were quarantined and subsequently released.

The role of traceability

Being able to trace the movement of cattle that may have been exposed to the infected herd was fundamental to the CFIA’s ability to prevent the spread and impact of the disease.

According to CFIA, animal traceability contributes to be an effective disease response and reduces the impact of a disease outbreak on individual producers and the industry as a whole. Good tracing information supports a faster response and can help limit the number of farms that must be quarantined.

The outcome of the outbreak

The TB outbreak was finally contained, but not before the beef industry experienced a significant impact. Nonetheless, without the benefits of RFID technology, the outcome would have been even worse. It’s worth noting that Canada’s world-leading cattle traceability system is made possible due to the diligence of industry members, who play a critical role in ensuring this information is collected and maintained. If this information had been incomplete or unavailable, the length of the investigation and the ability to determine the source of the infection would have been impacted significantly.

You can read more about RFID technology in these posts: