A year of speaking up for cattle feeders

As advocates for our province’s cattle feeders, the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association champions their interests, freeing them to concentrate on what they do best – producing premium beef for the world.

This past year has been another busy one. Here are the major projects the association has undertaken:

International trade

ACFA worked closely with the National Cattle Feeders’ Association to advance swift passage of several Canadian trade deals:

– Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), which replaced NAFTA.

– The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which broadens access to Asian markets.

– Opening markets in China for Canadian bone-in-beef products, including the creation of a pilot project to export fresh and chilled beef to China.

– Positive changes to the Restricted Feeder Cattle Program at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and postponement of changes to the CFIA Manual of Procedure that would have stalled trade with China.

Labour

To address the chronic labour shortage, ACFA reached an agreement with the Alberta ministry of Labour to facilitate faster and more direct applications for temporary foreign workers, as well as relaxed education, language and income requirements.

ACFA continues to work on this crucial program.

Taxation 

Lobbying for fair taxation has been a top priority. Efforts include:

– $75,000 in funding to appeal Lethbridge County Livestock Head Tax.

– Successfully advocating to drop proposed changes to the taxation of family owned corporations.

– Seeking rebates for carbon tax paid by agriculture.

– Successfully advocating for improved allowances and deductions from federal corporate income tax for capital investment (i.e., new Accelerated Investment Incentive).

Government consultation and submissions

ACFA regularly consults with municipal and provincial governments to represent our members’ interests. This year, ACFA:

– Urged a return to full funding for veterinary schools at the universities of Calgary and Saskatchewan.

– Called for improved regulations for winter manure management.

– Consulted on an Animal Health Pathfinding initiative for Foreign Animal Disease Preparedness.

– Attended the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) annual meeting, and met with the European vaccine bank.

– Worked with the province and Alberta Veterinary Medical Association on the dispensing of antimicrobial products.

Next week, we will explore upcoming priorities for 2019. In the meantime, we wish you a happy new year.

Spotlight on a feedlot career: the science behind being a nutritionist

Canada’s beef cattle spend most of their lives on open pasture, but for the last few months of their lives, most move to a feedlot for finishing. At the feedlot a great deal of care, attention and science goes into ensuring the well-being, health and comfort of the cattle, and to providing them with the optimal diet.

For feedlot cattle to reach their full growth potential, they need a balanced ration that supplies all their nutritional requirements and maximizes their growth rate. Ensuring that is the role of the feedlot nutritionist.

Feeding requirements of the ruminant

Cattle are ruminants, which means they have multiple compartments in their stomach, and food is passed from one to the other. Ruminants are unique in their ability to digest coarse vegetation such as grass, thanks to billions of microbes in the first compartment, the rumen, which help start the digestive process.

The feedlot nutritionist must design a diet that feeds these microbes to make sure the cattle receive the nutrients they need.

Basic feed components

There are three main components in cattle feed: grain, roughage and supplements:

1) Grain provides the bulk of the animal feed.

2) Roughage is typically provided in the form of silage.

3) Supplements include vitamins, proteins and minerals.

It is the job of the feedlot nutritionist to delicately balance each component to customize the precise needs of the cattle at each stage of the feedlot stay.

For instance, when cattle first arrive at the feedlot, they are introduced gradually to finishing rations, by reducing roughage and increasing grain. This allows the microbes in the rumen to adjust gradually and reduces the risk of adverse reactions such as rumen acidosis.

Cattle are monitored daily, and any health issues that could be linked to nutrition are brought to the attention of the nutritionist. 

Feed efficiencies

Feed efficiency is the term used for the amount of food required per pound of weight gain. It’s important for the feedlot nutritionist to achieve efficient weight gain for two reasons:

– Cost: feed efficiency plays a huge role in the profitability of a feedlot operation, and in the cost of the finished beef.

– Sustainability: efficiently fed cattle are finished faster and use fewer resources.

Reducing waste from other industries

Feedlot cattle play a huge role in helping use the waste or bi-products from other industries:

  • 86 per cent of cattle feed is unfit for human consumption.
  • Only nine per cent of cropland in Canada is used to grow crops specifically for cattle feed.
  • Cattle are fed the bi-products of other industries, which would otherwise be considered waste, such as leftover grains from the production of beer, whiskey and other alcohol, ethanol production and the oil processing industry.

Learning the science of feed efficiencies

The feedlot nutritionist’s expertise is the result of training and experience, as well as considerable industry research into feed efficiencies. Their skill helps ensure the five freedoms on which excellence in animal care is based.

To learn about some of the technology that helps the feedlot nutritionist maximize efficiency, read ‘Micro-machine helps reduce feedlot waste’.

The rising cost of hiring temporary foreign workers puts cattle feeders at risk 

Many of Canada’s agricultural producers rely on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to help keep their operations running. Even though they would prefer to hire from within the domestic labour pool, there are three main reasons why it is hard for them to find local workers:

1. Farm work is often seasonal, and many Canadian candidates choose to seek year-round work elsewhere.

2. The work can be extremely physical and strenuous, which limits the number of people interested in, or able for, such work.

3. While baby boomer farmers are retiring, young people are leaving rural areas for cities, creating a labour gap.

The agricultural industry collaborated to create a Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Workforce Action Plan and have urged the government to adopt their recommendations for addressing the labour crisis.

Why new changes to the temporary foreign worker program will impact cattle feeders

In October 2018, the Alberta government changed the prevailing wages for temporary foreign workers.

For example, the minimum wage for the NOC (national occupational classification, or occupational group) that includes specialized livestock workers and supervisors has increased from $18.43 per hour to $21.63 or more, across the province. That’s a wage increase of more than $3 per hour.

These minimum wages are in addition to other requirements such as supplying housing for workers, so the total cost of hiring a temporary foreign worker can quickly become prohibitive for agricultural producers, even though they desperately need help.

The Agriculture Industry Labour Council of Alberta (AILCA) has written a letter to the federal and provincial governments asking for support, because it is concerned that proposed changes to two programs intended to help farmers with a worker shortage will make it even harder to access labour. You can read more about that in ‘Alberta’s agricultural leaders ask government for help with labour crisis’.

To learn more about the agricultural labour crisis, read ‘12 must-know facts about the agricultural labour shortage and why it matters to Canadians.’

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.

5 priorities for cattle feeders in 2019 

Canada’s cattle feeders are urging politicians to consider the needs of beef producers in their platforms for the 2019 federal election. 

Agriculture and Agri-Food is a $100-billion industry that employs more than two million Canadians. The government has identified the sector as one of a few with the potential to spur economic growth.

Canada is in a prime position to benefit from increasing global demand for agricultural products, but the industry requires government support in removing constraints and barriers to growth. 

The National Cattle Feeders’ Association (NCFA) cites five urgent challenges:

Rural infrastructure

Most agricultural operations are in rural municipalities with a limited tax base to provide infrastructure. With little federal funding, some municipalities have implemented counterproductive measures, such as the livestock head tax in Lethbridge County. This is eroding the competitiveness of cattle feeding in southern Alberta.

It is crucial that the federal government identifies critical infrastructure investments in rural communities and dedicates financial resources to make them happen.

Labour shortage

A chronic labour shortage of about 60,000 workers is costing primary agriculture producers about $1.5 billion in unrealized farm cash receipts each year. 

Farmers have been forced to turn to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to fill positions that cannot be filled by Canadians, but the process is expensive, time-consuming and complicated. 

The program’s processes need to be streamlined and clear a pathway set for permanent residency for temporary foreign workers.

Regulatory barriers

The industry is ever-evolving with new technologies and industry developments. But when regulations don’t keep pace, it hinders our ability to compete in the global marketplace.

In 2016, NCFA released a detailed study entitled The Competitiveness of the Canadian Cattle Feeding Sector: Regulatory and Policy Issues(PDF)

, Costs and Opportunities. It highlighted six areas – enhanced traceability, export regulation and impediments, veterinary drug harmonization, inspection practices, transportation and labour – where reforms could generate an additional $495 million in revenue across the beef value chain.

International market access

Canada exports 45 per cent of its beef production, and those exports are primarily to the U.S. To grow, the industry needs to expand into other markets, including the Asia-Pacific region and Europe.

Agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Canada-EU Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) should be a government priority. They will have a tremendous impact on our ability to trade effectively with these regions.

Consumer education and trust

Government and industry need to work together to ensure consumers are able to make informed choices when it comes to their food, whether the issue is environmental impact, health, or production methods.

Public education should be a pillar of any new national food policy, and Canada Food Guide revisions should reflect the most recent scientific, medical and nutritional research.

In an earlier blog post, we featured John Weekes, an independent business advisor who has worked with NCFA on international trade issues. You can learn more about his work in Meet the international trade expert who is helping support the beef industry abroad.

Working together to learn about conservation and agriculture

The Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area, about 15 minutes southwest of Calgary, has long been a favourite field trip destination for local schools and educators.

Now, thanks to a collaboration with Inside Education – a non-profit group supporting multiple perspectives on environmental and natural resources in Alberta – the area could become a site for ongoing agricultural education.

“Inside Education and Cross Conservation bring complementary expertise to agriculture education,” said Kathryn Wagner, program director at Inside Education.

Inside Education has a suite of agriculture education programs, including classroom presentations, agriculture career summits, school garden grants and teacher professional development programs supporting the K-12 curriculum. In the coming years, they hope to add a provincewide youth agriculture education summit, field-based programs and classroom resources.

Cross Conservation offers experiential nature and discovery programs to children of all ages.

How a collaboration could work

The collaboration came through an introduction by the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association (ACFA).

Kathryn said initial ideas include credit-based programs, an agriculture demonstration site for both student programs and teacher professional development, and field trips that use the conservation area, local producers and other sites.

The goal is to provide up-to-date, relevant and meaningful agriculture education to inspire young people to be engaged environmental stewards and responsible decision-makers. 

“Working together with Cross Conservation, we can encourage students and teachers to consider how environmental, societal and economic values can be balanced on the landscape,” Kathryn said.

Representatives from Inside Education and ACFA plan to tour the Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area this summer.

You can learn more about agriculture education in How student-managed farming is teaching the next generation of beef producers, and How Olds College is preparing agriculture students for the future.

This is the third post in our Agriculture Education series. 

How student-managed farming is teaching the next generation of beef producers

In part two of our agriculture education series, we’re visiting the student-managed farm (SMF) at Lakeland College in Vermillion, Alberta.

Josie Van Lent, dean of Lakeland College’s School of Agricultural Sciences, explained that the student-managed farm is a fully operating farm with multiple enterprises – crops, dairy, sheep, purebred beef, commercial beef and beef research.

Founded in 1913, Lakeland College was Alberta’s first agricultural college. Its agriculture diploma programs include everything from agribusiness and general agriculture to animal science technology, veterinary medicine assistant and western ranch and cow horse (horses that work cows).

During the first year of the two-year program, students are able to benefit from the hands-on learning afforded by working on the various farms. At the end of the first year, they apply for management positions on their choice of operation. “They have to go through an interview process, just as they would for any other job,” said Josie. “Then, based on their interview outcomes, they are divided into teams who manage such important farm business elements as production, finances, marketing, sustainability, public relations and advocacy.”

Each team has a strong set of goals and objectives for their year, and all teams report to each other every week.

“Students learn more than just the obvious skills required by their industry,” said Josie. “They learn professionalism, teamwork and communication,” she said. “They must be able to think critically, and then get their point across to other members of the team. They learn how to run a productive meeting, how to advocate for their industry and how to create an environmental plan.”

Decision-making for the beef producer

An example of the kinds of decisions the students must make and justify, is how to handle weaned calves. “Students must decide whether to keep them on the farm or sell them. They explore all the options, do break-evens, and work out where the best potential for profit lies,” she said. “They’re taking what they’ve learned in the classroom, and applying it in the real world, where they will then get to experience the consequences and outcomes.”

Technology

The SMF has up-to-date technology thanks to sponsors and supporters, including New Holland Agriculture, Agri-Trend and Farmers Edge.

Technology changes all the time, and we expose the students to it at every level of the farm,” said Josie, “Customer support is excellent, and the students get the hang of new technology very quickly.

“I think, in many ways, the most valuable skills we’re teaching them are the ones that don’t change very much – skills like critical thinking, decision making, financial management and succession planning,” Josie continued.

Lakeland College is hoping to supplement its two-year diploma program with a four-year degree program, accepting students from their own or other schools’ diploma programs.

Check out the first article in our agriculture education series: ‘How Olds College is preparing agriculture students for the future’.

Ottawa meetings bring cattle feeder issues to government’s attention

Each year, at its February board meeting, the National Cattle Feeders’ Association (NCFA) creates an Ottawa Engagement Strategy. This strategy provides a framework for four separate meetings in March, May, September, and November with federal decision makers, including MPs, ministers, parliamentary secretaries, staff, and house committees.

The strategy allows NCFA representatives to advocate for cattle feeders across Canada on major issues such as trade, regulations, labour, and infrastructure.

During the 2018 March and May meetings, the NCFA met with Patty Hajdu, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, and with Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, as well as more than 50 MPs and government officials.

The issues explained

The major opportunities and challenges that form the focus of this year’s meetings include the following:

Opportunities for growth

Barriers to growth

  • Consumer education and trust – To get the government engaged in consumer education, helping ensure, through the Canadian Food Policy, that consumer choice is “informed”, based on facts and science.
  • Labour shortages – To ensure that Canada’s agricultural producers and meat processors have access to the labour they need.
  • Rural infrastructure – To facilitate infrastructure development so that agriculture ties into broader provincial, regional, and national networks.
  • Regulatory barriers – To continue updating regulations so they reflect the day-to-day realities of beef production and keep pace with technological changes and ongoing innovations.

Progress made during the consultations

In early May, Rodger Cuzner, parliamentary secretary for labour, chaired a day-long roundtable on labour needs in agriculture and agri-food. It was announced that the government will no longer require separate Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIAs) for worker transfers or replacement workers. This removes one of the many Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) complexities.

Bureaucrats administering the TFWP are currently holding consultations with agriculture across Canada, with meetings in Ottawa, Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg and other cities. Key issues with the program will be raised during the meetings.

As more meetings are held later this year, we will continue to provide updates.

Alberta’s agricultural leaders ask government for help with labour crisis

The Agriculture Industry Labour Council of Alberta (AILCA) has written a letter to the federal and provincial governments asking for support, because it is concerned that proposed changes to two programs intended to help farmers with a worker shortage will make it even harder to access labour.

For many years, Canada’s farmers have struggled with a declining domestic labour pool, resulting in a chronic shortage of workers. Temporary foreign workers are often the only source of labour available to help them continue their operations.

The council believes the proposed changes to the Provincial Nominee Program and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) will complicate the use of these labour lifelines.

Who is AILCA?

AILCA is a council of 22 agricultural producers, and related organizations, representing diverse agri-foods sectors from livestock to food crops and greenhouse growers.

The council recently wrote a letter outlining their concerns to the following ministers:

    • Hon. Patricia A. Hajdu, Minister Employment, Workforce Development and Labour
    • Hon. Ahmed Hussen, Minister Immigration, Refugee, and Citizenship Canada
    • Hon. Christina Gray, Minister of Alberta Labour

The purpose of the letter was to outline in detail the reasons for their concern, and the implications for Canadian agriculture if the government fails to take action to protect their interests.

The AILCA message to Ottawa

Here is a summary of the council’s concerns:

THE PROVINCIAL NOMINEE PROGRAM

The federal government is imposing new requirements on the provinces relating to education, income, language and more. These requirements will severely hinder and limit farmers’ ability to transition temporary foreign workers to permanent resident status.

Some of the issues include:

    • Excessively high-income thresholds which are prohibitive for employers. It also does not consider unique aspects of agricultural employment which might include subsidized housing and the comparatively low cost of rural living.
    • Educational requirements which do not take into account work experience or job skills.
    • Language skills that are more advanced than those required to apply for Canadian citizenship.

The government is taking away the ability of provincial governments to provide solutions tailored to their specific economic needs.

THE TEMPORARY FOREIGN WORKER PROGRAM

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program has many administrative issues that make it a lengthy and complex process for companies to acquire permits for the workers they need:

Service delivery issues:

    • Insufficient communication, leading to refusals. Applications are routinely refused on the grounds of rules or regulations that do not exist or have never been made public. Unannounced and sudden changes to forms, program requirements and wage rates are another common reason for refusal.
    • Increasing service delivery timelines and frequent processing delays, mean applications can take anywhere from one to three months, with no consistency.
    • Workers coming from Mexico are experiencing such delays to their visa applications that they often don’t arrive in time for the start of the season.

Program framework issues:

    • TFWP Cap – Despite the proven, chronic agricultural labour shortage, many employers are subject to a 10 or 20-per-cent cap on the number of TFWs they can hire.
    • Housing – Employment and Social Development Canada officers have been implementing excessive housing requirements based on unpublished, and in some cases, non-existent program rules. Many of them fail to consider the specific situation or requirements of individual employers.
    • Application Streams – The application stream under which employers can apply has been reduced from two to one, resulting in many problems because specific operational needs are not taken into account.
    • Commodity Lists – A TFW can only work in one commodity, or agricultural product group. On a feedlot, for instance, this precludes workers from helping with both livestock and feed crops because those would be considered different commodities.

Audits and inspections:

    • Applications are often delayed due to audits, which can drag on for weeks or even months. This leaves employers without access to desperately needed workers or prevents workers from extending their permits.
    • Unannounced inspections are being held, but the processes that guide those inspections have not been made available to employers. Certain issues such as bio-security and the inspection of businesses located in homes and private residences have not been addressed and are of particular concern.  

What AILCA wants

AILCA stresses the need for leadership from within the federal departments of Employment and Social Development Canada, and Immigration and Refugees and Citizenship Canada, as well as from the provincial government.

AILCA would like to see meaningful, ongoing collaboration on these issues, and has asked the provincial and federal governments to engage with producers and processors to develop realistic labour and immigration policies. They stress this is the only way to successfully grow Alberta’s and Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sector.

Secure labour sources needed to meet $75-billion ag-export goal

 

In 2017, the federal government challenged Canada’s agricultural producers to reach an export target of $75 billion by 2025 – fully $20 billion more than current levels. The government has identified agriculture as one of a handful of sectors that could spur economic growth.

Yet the huge potential for increased global trade for Canadian agri-foods is likely to go unfulfilled unless the agriculture sector’s chronic labour crisis is resolved.

Temporary foreign workers

The importance of temporary foreign workers to Canada’s farmers has been explained in previous blog posts. When farmers cannot find enough domestic workers to help them run their operations, access to temporary foreign workers, and the ability to keep them in the country, is crucial to the growth of the sector.

Proposed changes to the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program and to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program are making it harder for farmers to access that labour lifeline.

Youth unemployment

We spoke with Joe Hersch, managing director of Youth Jobs Canada, who said that young Canadians could also be part of the solution.

“Unemployment rates among youth are in the range of 13 to 14 per cent,” said Joe. “That’s about double the Canadian unemployment rate, which stands at around seven per cent”.

Youth Jobs Canada is the only national employment website that focuses strictly on youth. It makes employment resources available to youth, and helps bridge the divide between them and potential employers. “We wanted to give youth the tools that they need to go after jobs, but also to allow employers to post jobs,” Joe continued.

The response to the site, which launched in October 2017, has been very favourable among employers, but the uptake among youth is growing more slowly. Joe commented that job seekers can sometimes be unrealistic in terms of the level at which they expect to enter a career path.

Youth Jobs Canada is building awareness among young people, primarily through work fairs and social media.

“Social media is where young people live,” said Joe, “and if you can direct your message through social media that’s how you can make sure you’re being seen. Having that interaction is so valuable, so that youth feel comfortable that we’re identifying with what they need.”

Services such as Youth Jobs Canada are valuable tools in the agricultural sector’s recruitment toolkit. Some others include Acme School’s Career Connections, Alberta 4-H, Ag in the Classroom and Alberta Agriculture and Forestry’s Green Certificate Program. Nonetheless, support from the government is the best hope our agricultural producers have of a viable solution to this long-term challenge.