Why Lethbridge County cattle feeders could be leaving via new roads

Here in Alberta, beef is a $5 billion industry. It supplies 75 per cent of our province’s meat exports, and 40 per cent of all agricultural exports.

But the hard-working Albertans who keep Alberta’s heritage industry running are worried about their future. They are dealing with increased costs from the province, taxation by municipalities and protectionist threats from the United States, all of which put untold pressure on their operations.

There’s not much we can do about threats from south of the border, but on a more local scale, our cattle producers are faced with issues that jeopardize their livelihoods. One such issue is the livestock head tax in Lethbridge County.

The county has proposed the tax to help raise money to build and repair roads and bridges. Few would argue that this infrastructure is not needed, but the burden will fall disproportionately on local cattle feeders, who will be paying 85 per cent of the tax.

What a livestock head tax means for cattle feeders

At any given time, there are more than half a million cattle in feedlots in Lethbridge County. This business contributes over $600 million to the local economy. But an independent analysis of the tax concluded that cattle feeding operations will either close or move to other jurisdictions. Feeder cattle will migrate to US feedlots. This means Alberta will lose a value-added component of the beef industry which has taken generations to build.

Why a dysfunctional property tax system lies at the root of the problem 

Lethbridge County argues that the infrastructure money it needs can’t come from increasing property tax on farmland because Lethbridge already has one of the highest farmland tax rates in Alberta. At first glance, this appears to be true – farmland property taxes in Lethbridge County are 2.3 per cent of assessed value compared to a provincial average of 1.1 per cent. But this requires a closer look:

    • Comparing taxes paid as a per cent of assessed value is not the way to measure tax burden. This can only be measured by comparing taxes paid to personal or net business income. 
    • When measured as a percentage of per capita income, taxes paid on farmland in Lethbridge County are about 40 per cent lower today than they were in 1996.
    • The property tax system does not properly assess and tax land used for intensive livestock operations. 
    • Assessment rates have not been updated since 1983.  As a result, the property tax burden is not being fairly shared among owners of farmland. 

The Alberta government has long known about these issues with the property tax system. It commissioned a review in 2002, resulting in recommendations which were subsequently ignored.

Ignoring the problem is no longer an option. It’s time for the government to modernize and update the farmland property tax system so municipalities can raise the revenue they need to serve their citizens and support their livelihoods.

We have called on the Minister of Municipal Affairs to work with us in designing a province-wide solution for this province-wide issue. We need fair, equitable, and transparent tax policy. It’s the only way to support the businesses on which our economy is founded.

You can learn more about other issues that are of concern to Alberta’s cattle feeders in ‘5 feedlot issues to watch for in 2017.’

Antimicrobials and food production – 4 reasons antibiotics are given to beef cattle

Some Canadians have questions about antibiotic use in farmed animals. In an earlier post, we looked at the science behind the use of hormones in beef cattle. This week, in part one of a three-part series, we’re exploring another hot topic – antibiotics.

First up, an explanation of what antibiotics are, and how and why they are used.

Antibiotic or antimicrobial?

An antimicrobial is any agent that is used to treat microbial infection. An antibiotic is one type of antimicrobial, specifically made from natural microorganisms.

When looking at the safety or issues of using antibiotics in beef cattle, it makes the most sense to discuss the use of antimicrobials as a whole, rather than only antibiotics.

We spoke with Dr. Sherry Hannon, research team lead and veterinary epidemiologist at Feedlot Health Management Services Ltd. to learn more about the use of antimicrobials in feedlot animals.

Sherry explained that there are four main reasons for the use of antimicrobials in feedlots:

#1 To treat disease

“Diseases such as respiratory disease, arthritis and other lameness, abscesses, etc., are effectively treated with antimicrobials in injectable or oral form,” said Sherry.

#2 After surgery or injury

Antimicrobials are used to prevent infection in individual animals after specific events.

#3 As a preventative

Antimicrobials are sometimes used when animals have been exposed to disease, or unfavourable environmental conditions, and are at risk from an outbreak of infectious disease. They are also fed to groups of cattle at specific times to help prevent common diseases.

“Based on clinical field trials, we know that specific groups of animals may already be sick by the time they reach the feedlot after weaning, co-mingling in auction markets, and transport,” explained Sherry. “Antimicrobials help us prevent outbreaks that could spread through the herd.”

#4 To improve growth and production

The use of antimicrobials have historically been used to improve rumen function and enhance growth and production of meat, but this use is declining, and becoming increasingly regulated, due to the risk of antimicrobial resistance. We will discuss antimicrobial resistance further in part two of this series.

When antimicrobials are withheld

When an animal is sick, or at risk from disease, it would be cruel to withhold treatment.

“There are three main health implications when antimicrobials are withheld,” Sherry noted:

    • Poor animal welfare – animals would become sick or die.
    • Greater potential for spreading of disease among animals in a pen.
    • Food safety concerns increase because animals are more likely to have infections when sent to slaughter.

Stay tuned for next week when we will discuss the causes for concern around the use of antimicrobials in beef cattle, and what’s being done to address them.

In the meantime, check out ‘Beef and hormones: what the science says’.

Budget 2017 and agriculture: 5 things you should know

A major mandate for the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association, and for the National Cattle Feeders’ Association (NCFA), is to represent our industry to the government. We work hard to keep the lines of communication open, and to provide valuable information about the challenges our members face, and how that affects Canadians.

The recent federal budget, announced on March 22, 2017, is a testament to that dialogue. To learn how the budget has addressed the needs of the agricultural sector, we spoke with Cathy Noble of Noble Path Strategic Consulting. Noble Path provides consulting services to NCFA.

“Not only did this budget demonstrate a renewed interest by the government in the agriculture and agri-food sector, but it also addressed many priority issues upon which NCFA has advocated including labour, research, trade, food safety and infrastructure.” said Cathy.

Five agricultural priorities addressed

Cathy outlined some of the most pressing priorities that were addressed in the 2017 federal budget, and the commitments made:

#1 Temporary foreign workers

The budget includes support for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the International Mobility Program, as well as amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to ensure that those immigration candidates who are most likely to succeed in Canada are granted express entry.

You can read more about why it’s so important for Canadian farmers to have access to temporary foreign workers in ‘Feeding the world: why the agri-food industry must be an economic priority.’

#2 Trade and market access

Reviews of, and investment in, rail service, gateways and ports will help Canadian producers get agri-food products to market. This will be boosted by the elimination of tariffs on many agri-food processing ingredients, strengthening the competitiveness of Canadian agri-food manufacturers both at home and abroad.

More trade commissioners will also be placed in strategic markets abroad to support this investment attraction, and new trade agreements with the European Union and Asia will be a boon for the economy as well.

To learn more about market access for Canadian beef, check out these posts on trade with the European market and Canada’s 58 most important beef export markets.

#3 Food Safety

Investments in core food safety inspection programming delivered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada, as well as food safety regulations will help build Canada’s global reputation for the highest standards of food safety.

#4 Agricultural science and innovation

The Liberals have committed to investing $70 million over six years to support agricultural discovery science and innovation, with a focus on addressing emerging priorities such as climate change and soil and water conservation.

#5 Agricultural policy framework

The next agricultural policy framework will be launched in 2018 where federal, provincial and territorial governments will renew their commitments to investing in this critical sector. As part of the development of the next framework, governments will consider the ways in which innovation in agriculture can help strengthen the sector as a whole, enhance our value-added exports and create stronger, more well-paying jobs for Canadians.

The full budget can be found on the Government of Canada website. And check out ‘Five feedlot issues to watch out for in 2017’, to see how many made the budget.

Carbon pricing and the beef industry: how will Canadians feel the effects?

Businesses across Alberta are bracing for the new carbon tax, wondering what effects the levy will have on their bottom line. So, when Jennifer Winter joins us at the Alberta Beef Industry Conference to speak about the cost of emissions pricing, the interest will be high. Jennifer is the director of energy and environmental policy at the University of Calgary, and we asked her for a few insights into the potential costs for the beef industry.

Jennifer Winter at the Alberta Beef Industry ConferenceJennifer explained that, since 2007, emissions from large emitters have been subject to a levy, but starting in January 2017, this system changed to a broad-based carbon tax on emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels.

“This means that, across Alberta, individuals and companies are going to be paying more for gasoline, diesel, natural gas and other fossil fuels,” said Jennifer. “For the agricultural sector, farm fuel is exempt, and so the impact will mainly be felt through natural gas price increases and indirectly through increased pricing from suppliers as they respond to the carbon tax.”

“The impacts will depend on how much fossil fuels each operation uses, and it is possible the carbon tax will make some businesses unprofitable,” continued Jennifer.

In addition to the exemption on farm fuels, the government has also placed a cap on the price of electricity.

How the carbon tax will affect the beef on Canadians’ plates

The most likely cost to Canadians will be an increase in emissions-intensive goods and services, such as gasoline. As for beef? Time will tell how much of a price increase Canadians will see at the store, or whether supply will be affected.

Check out ‘5 feedlot issues to watch for in 2017’, to learn about other issues that could affect Alberta’s beef industry this year.

Former Edmonton Sun columnist Danny Hooper on the evolution of the beef industry

When you think about the beef that’s served on your table, it might seem that the product hasn’t changed much during your lifetime. What has changed, though, is the business of beef production.

With the annual Alberta Beef Industry Conference approaching, from February 15-17, we thought it would be interesting to talk with long-time event master of ceremonies, Danny Hooper, to see what changes he has observed over the years.

As well as being conference MC for over a decade, Danny is a former page 6 columnist for the Edmonton Sun, a recording artist, motivational speaker, fundraising auctioneer and one-time host of the 790 CFCW morning show. He also comes from a farming background, having grown up on a cattle ranch in Tomahawk, Alberta.

Changing times have brought changing issues

We asked Danny what issues have come to the forefront during his time with the conference. “When I did my first year, it was right in the middle of the BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) crisis,” he said. Since then, I’ve seen a succession of different issues. Tech is a big one – it’s interesting to see how technology changes the industry every year. Country of Origin Labelling has been another big topic. Other issues I’ve seen include the economy; the way that changing demographics, as well as social and cultural norms, affect beef producers; politics; regulation and more.”

Food safety in Canada

Danny also said that food safety has been a constant theme at the conference, and he’s always been impressed at the high standards followed by the industry. “I recently returned from a three-week trip to Bali,” he said, “and that was a real eye opener. You can’t drink the tap water, even in a nice hotel, and you’re always wondering about the safety of the food you’re served. In Canada, you don’t have to give food safety much of a thought.”

The adaptability of Canadian beef producers

As consumer demands change, Danny noted, the industry has been able to adapt and respond. “There’s so much information out there, both good and bad – and a lot of misinformation – and it travels at the speed of light. It can affect consumer choices very quickly, and at the other end of the scale, the producers,” he said. “Food producers have to respond, and often have to respond quite quickly, and I think overall they’ve done a very good job of it.”

Danny concluded our conversation with a couple of observations about the industry:

“To me, it’s always an eye opener what big business this is,” he commented, “and all the issues that the producers do face. I don’t think people are aware of that.”

“Another thing I’ve found interesting through the years is the custom branding. A lot of the small independent producers are doing a really good job of branding and marketing their farms and their products.”

To learn more about the consumer trends that affect the beef industry, check out last week’s blog post: ‘Changing demographics mean changes at the dinner table.’ And stay tuned for more from conference speakers in the upcoming weeks.

Beef and hormones: what the science says

In a recent post on this blog, we explained why hormones are used in beef cattle production, and explored the implications for both animals and people. This week we continue that topic with a look at the science behind hormone use.

To find out whether Canadians should be concerned about the use of hormones in beef production, we spoke with Reynold Bergen, science director with the Canadian Beef Research Council (BCRC).

What the research says

“Hormone use has been the subject of numerous independent studies,” said Reynold. “In 2014, James Magolski and his co-workers at North Dakota State University, published the results of a study that used pigs to find out whether growth implants used in beef production could cause young girls to hit puberty sooner. The results provided us with a great deal of insight.”

Reynold explained that the main findings of the study were as follows:

    • Pigs were fed one of four diets. Two contained beef, either from cattle raised without hormone implants, or from cattle implanted with hormones. Two were vegetarian diets (containing canola meal low in natural plant estrogens, or a soy meal high in natural plant estrogens). Estrogen levels were the same in the diets that contained beef from implanted cattle, unimplanted cattle, or canola meal. Estrogen levels were higher in the soy-based tofu diet, because of naturally occurring plant estrogens.
    • None of the four diets – whether they contained high or low levels of estrogen – resulted in a higher level of estrogen or progesterone in the animal’s blood. This is because stomach acids and digestive enzymes break down the vast majority of hormones consumed in the diet; very few of them are absorbed into the bloodstream.
    • The effects on the test animals’ growth and reproductive characteristics were the same for all four diets.

“In other words,” Reynold explained, “there are more hormones in the bun than in the burger. But, in any case, neither has any effect on the person consuming the food.”

You can learn more about this study in the BCRC blog post ‘These little piggies ate a quarter pounder a day.’

Stay tuned for an upcoming post in which we will be discussing another topic that is both controversial and subject to misinformation – the use of antibiotics in beef cattle production.

5 feedlot issues to watch for in 2017

For our first post of 2017, we’re taking a look at some of the issues likely to affect feedlot operators in upcoming months. Here are five topics worth watching:

1. Transportation

The Canada Gazette recently published new regulations on transport times and conditions for cattle on livestock trucks. Cattle feeders provided input into the process, and will be submitting a response in February.

2. Traceability

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency plans to announce new traceability regulations in 2017. This important piece of legislation has been 10 years in the making due to the complexity of tracing and tracking cattle movement, but regulation is a crucial piece in the protection of public and animal health, and ensuring food safety.

3. Trade

With the U.S. election now over and Trump in the White House all eyes are on the trade implications. Cattle and beef are currently traded in both directions between Canada and the U.S. and any changes to Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) or NAFTA will have huge implications for our industry and Canadians.

4. Safety

The Alberta Farm and Ranch Workplace Act, or Bill 6, was a hot topic during 2016, with many farmers and ranchers concerned about the implications for their businesses. As the government’s roundtable consultation sessions wind up, we will all be interested to learn the outcomes, and their implications for farm safety.

5. Infrastructure

Finding the necessary funding to rehabilitate rural roads and replace bridges also emerged as a hot topic in 2016. Cattle feeders have made representations to both the federal and provincial governments on their responsibility to ensure agriculture can move products to market. While the federal government recently announced $2 billion over the next 11 years for rural infrastructure projects, much more is needed. Pressure on this policy priority must continue up to the spring budgets and beyond. 

Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts, as we explain more about these issues, and explore how they affect cattle feeders, the beef industry and even Canadians.

How technology could help agriculture’s labour crisis

As we’ve seen in earlier posts on this blog, Canada’s agriculture industry is experiencing a chronic labour crisis.

According to labour market information (LMI) research conducted by The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC), the vacancy rate for on-farm jobs is seven per cent, which is the highest vacancy rate of any of Canada’s industry sectors. Read more

3 challenges facing Alberta’s beef industry

Beef is big business in Alberta – but like any business owners, ranchers and cattle feeders must navigate regulations, market conditions, public opinion and much more in their bid to stay competitive and profitable.

This was the subject of a recent article in Alberta Beef Magazine, in which ACFA chair Martin Zuidhoff and vice-chair Ryan Kasko were asked about cattle feeders’ new and old challenges. Read more

4 ways Alberta’s cattle feeders are building public trust

In business, success is about more than profits. Successful operations must be balanced with environmental and social responsibility. Alberta’s cattle feeders are no different. They play a vital role in the beef production industry, and the Canadian economy. But that’s not enough…
Read more