The Top 5 blog posts of 2017

Thanks for reading our blog this year. We hope you’ve enjoyed the information we’ve shared about how Alberta’s cattle feeders operate, the innovations they’ve introduced and the challenges they face.

As we head into 2018, we’re looking back at the most popular blog posts from 2017. Here are the posts most read and shared by you, our readers:

New program customizes farm safety for feedlots. Cattle feeding is a unique industry, and the requirements of a feedlot safety program cannot be met by standardized programs. In this post, we explained a safety program that feedlot operators can customize to their own operation.

5 feedlot issues to watch for in 2017. Transportation, traceability, trade, safety and infrastructure were all flagged as important issues for Alberta’s cattle feeders, and which we covered in posts during the year.

Why Lethbridge County cattle feeders could be leaving via new roads. This was one of several posts discussing proposed legislative or tax changes that could impede the profitability of cattle feeders.

Meet the team: Ryan Kasko, vice-chair of the board. In 2017, we introduced Ryan as our vice-chair, and this year we look forward to having him serve as our new Chair. Martin Zuidhof will become the Past Chair. The Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association is fortunate to have such committed and knowledgeable individuals serving on its board.

Canadian beef in demand: feeding the European market and why it matters. The importance of international trade to Canada’s beef industry has been a theme throughout the year. In this post, we introduced one of the few Canadian feedlots that produces beef that meets the requirements of the European market.

We’re glad you enjoyed these posts, and we’re already hard at work planning a great series for 2018. Stay tuned – and in the meantime, Happy New Year!

Why a new safety audit will help feedlots operate safely

Alberta’s feedlot owners work hard to ensure that their operations are safe – for their employees, animals and the environment.

In recent blog posts, we have described how programs such as ACFA’s Alberta Feedlot Safety Program and the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council’s (CAHRC) Agri HR Toolkit are helping cattle feeders build comprehensive, effective safety programs. But how can business owners be sure they are implementing those programs correctly and fully?

That’s where auditing comes in. We spoke with Nick Schefter, senior safety coordinator with Critical Hazard HSE Ltd., to learn about the next step for feedlot operators’ safety programs.

Why audits matter

Nick explained that an audit is a valuable chance to make sure safety program implementation is on track.

“We come in to ensure they have understood and introduced every element of the program correctly, and that it is being implemented fully across the operation. We review all the processes put in place and we look at documentation to make sure they’re filling it out. For instance, if vehicles are supposed to be inspected weekly, we check whether that’s happening and being properly documented.”

Why feedlot owners care about safety

The Alberta Feedlot Safety Program is widely supported in the industry because it covers everything from employee health and safety to environmental protection and emergency response. It is the first program to help feedlot operators create a safety program customized to their industry.

Many cattle feeding companies have implemented the ACFA’s Alberta Feedlot Safety Program. “These companies are leaders in the industry when it comes to safety,” Nick said.

Implementing the safety program and passing regular safety audits prevents injuries and fatalities so everyone returns home safely from the feedlot. 

If you’d like to read more about farm safety, and cattle feeders’ initiatives, check out these blog posts:

New HR Toolkit provides the building blocks for an effective farm safety program

Today’s farmer realizes the importance of formalized safety programs when it comes to keeping their employees safe and their operations running smoothly. But the challenge with standardized safety programs for farms is the unique nature of every operation.

That’s why the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) put together an Agri HR Toolkit specifically for farms. The toolkit gives agricultural operations of all types and sizes the information and resources they need to understand their responsibilities and liabilities, and to build a customized workforce management program.

CAHRC has recently updated the toolkit, and the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association has purchased a subscription for every one of their current members.

What is an HR toolkit?

That’s a question we asked CAHRC’s Project Manager, Tracy Biernacki-Dusza. Tracy explained that the toolkit covers everything involved in managing a workforce. It isn’t a safety program, but it does include a whole section on health and safety, with lots of detailed information on everything that should be considered when building a program, including steps to get started, links to other templates, and action plans. Some of the elements include:

    • Canadian Occupational Health and Safety legislation
    • WHMIS
    • Provincial legislation
    • Workplace conditions and expectations
    • Policies on drug and alcohol abuse
    • Hazard audits
    • Farm equipment safety
    • Animal safety
    • Bio-security

“It helps the business owner consider every aspect of their workforce management, to protect themselves and their employees. It includes everything from health and safety policies to hiring; from workplace wellness to succession planning – and lots more,” said Tracy.

Why is the toolkit an important resource?

Because agriculture is such a unique industry, the Agri HR Toolkit has been designed to be extremely customizable. “Rather than a checklist, we’ve included the information in a human resources handbook,” Tracy explained. “It runs through all the policies and procedures a farm operator should have in place, and helps them work out how they pertain to their operation.”

As part of their work with ACFA, CAHRC has helped create seven different feedlot role job descriptions, complete with training requirements, and has conducted training sessions on recruitment, selection and hiring.

Good for owners and employees alike

The primary purpose of the toolkit is to help business owners comply with standards and legislation. By helping them make their operations safer for their employees and visitors to their farms, it will also protect them against employment related claims.

You can read more about safety in the agriculture industry in these earlier blog posts:

Should Canadians be concerned about antibiotics in food animals?

Last week in part one of this three-part series, we explained why and how antimicrobials (of which antibiotics are one type) are used in beef cattle. This week we’re exploring the causes for concern over that use.

We continue our conversation with Dr. Sherry Hannon, research team lead and veterinary epidemiologist at Feedlot Health Management Services Ltd.

How long do antimicrobials stay in an animal’s system?

There are many different antimicrobials labelled for veterinary use in cattle in Canada. Each is classified according to its uses, its effect on bacteria and the way it works.

“As part of the label, a ‘withdrawal period’ – a period of time before which the animals are not allowed to enter the food chain – is specified. Some antimicrobials have a zero day withdrawal period (they are eliminated from the body within a very short period of time), while others are known to stay in the body for much longer periods,” Sherry explained.

Causes for concern in the use of antimicrobials

Sherry explained that there are two main concerns related to the use of antimicrobials:

1. Antimicrobial residues

A residue is a remnant of the antimicrobial molecule itself or a degradation product of that molecule, left in the animal after harvest.

“For each antimicrobial, a level of residues (usually extremely low) has been deemed to be acceptable for human health through rigorous safety trials,” said Sherry.

“Therefore, meat that goes for sale to people must be at or below that level. The withdrawal period for each antimicrobial defines the amount of time that must have elapsed from the last dose before an animal can be harvested for meat, thus ensuring any possible residues are below the acceptable level and safe for human consumption.

As an added step of food safety oversight, meat at processing plants is regularly tested for residues on an ongoing basis as part of quality assurance and compliance monitoring.”

2. Antimicrobial resistance

According to Sherry, of greater concern than residues is the issue of antimicrobial resistance, which for many reasons, has become a global health issue. As the use of antimicrobials continues, for people and animals, there is increasing development of bacteria that are resistant to them.

“There is a potential for the presence of bacteria on meat or in the environment which carry resistance genes for particular antimicrobials, and this relates to the possibility that these bacteria could multiply or infect people,” she said.

The role of continued research and monitoring

“The above concerns are actively addressed through continued research, regulatory requirements, veterinary oversight, antimicrobial stewardship practices, and producers’ commitment to provide safe and nutritious beef,” noted Sherry. “In addition, appropriate cooking of beef further protects against these concerns by inactivating any residues present, or by killing any viable microorganisms,” she stressed.

The Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance (CIPARS) monitors and describes antimicrobial resistance (and some use) in retail meat, on farm and in animal and human populations.

Stay tuned for part three of this series, in which we’ll discuss how food safety is ensured when antibiotics are used in cattle – and ongoing changes to regulation.

In the meantime, check out part one, ‘Antimicrobials and food production: 4 reasons antibiotics are given to beef cattle’.

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.

New program customizes farm safety for feedlots

Feedlot safety is a top priority for Alberta’s cattle feeders, but farming is unique, and the complexities of farm safety cannot be compared to any other sector. So how do you address safety in an industry where people often live where they work, raise their children there, and employ their friends and neighbours? Read more

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: should Canadians be concerned?

These days we hear a lot in the media about the use of hormones in food production. In fact, ‘hormone-free’ has become a common advertising theme. This week on this blog, we’re taking a look at why food producers use hormones, and whether Canadians have any cause for concern. Read more

The beef industry and sustainability: how are we doing and where could we improve?

In previous posts on the blog we’ve talked about the contribution the beef industry makes to Canada’s economy; about beef exports, young people in agriculture and more. These are all subjects that matter to Canadians.

The central issue of all these topics is ‘sustainability’ – our ability to operate profitably and for the long-term, without being harmful to people or the environment. That poses some big questions for us as an industry. How are we performing when it comes to our industry members, our animals, our environment and our consumers?

That’s why, in 2014, the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB) commissioned the National Beef Sustainability Assessment (NBSA) and Strategy. The two-year study assessed the environmental, social and economic performance of the Canadian beef industry, right from ‘farm to fork’, and identified areas where we could improve.

According to Cherie Copithorne-Barnes, chair of the CRSB, “we have created a sustainability benchmark to enable us to start measuring, and to be able to tangibly see, what we’re doing well and where we need to improve. We now have a national report that’s been measured coast to coast and encompasses all the components to the sustainment of the entire beef industry.”

The most inclusive model of its kind

“We created completely new models, for instance for biodiversity and carbon sequestration,” said Cherie. “It is the first, and most inclusive of its kind worldwide, and is now an internationally recognized model.”

A summary of the methodologies and results can be found in the newly released assessment and strategy report (PDF). In this post we’re going to take a look at some of the areas where room for improvement has been identified, and where goals have been set.

Environmental assessment

Alberta cowsFrom ranching right through to feeding or processing, our industry uses water, land and feed; our operations consume resources and release substances into the air and water. Cattle also release methane into the air as food ferments in their rumen, or stomach.

On the other hand, the beef industry also provides many benefits, such as sequestering carbon in the soil in the form of manure, providing natural habitat for biodiversity and maintaining wetlands on the landscape.

The study examined the environmental performance of the Canadian beef industry in the following areas:

  • Climate change
  • Fossil fuel depletion
  • Air
  • Land use
  • Biodiversity
  • Water
  • Meat waste

Some of the main goals for our industry identified by the study are:

  • Reduce the greenhouse gas footprint for every kilogram of Canadian beef produced. Some of the ways this is being done are through optimized diets, manure management, increased carbon sequestration and genetics.
  • Enhance biodiversity on lands managed by beef producers. A need was identified for greater awareness of, and research into, the relationship between beef production, habitats and biodiversity.
  • Reduce the effects that the beef industry has on rivers and watersheds. Beef producers continue to encourage the completion of the National Wetland Inventory, and support knowledge and innovation in areas such as water use efficiencies, and the health of our rivers and waterways.
  • Reduce meat waste. Efficiencies at the processing stage, and improved packaging were both identified as areas where improvements could potentially be made.

Social assessment

rider herds cattle in feedlotThe social part of the study covered three main areas:

  • Working conditions
  • Animal health
  • Antimicrobials

The following goals were recommended:

  • Continue to promote farm safety, as well as a culture of diversity, inclusion and transparency.
  • Promote excellence in animal care, through the beef code of practice, including in such practices as transportation, pain control and branding.
  • Support and further develop best practices regarding antimicrobial use. This includes proper use in order to avoid resistances, as well as public education on the importance of responsible use of microbials for healthy animals.

Economic assessment

Producer viability and consumer resilience were the main areas of focus for the economic portion of the study. The two main goals that came from this were:

  • Increase the financial viability of beef producers in Canada with knowledge, efficiency and innovation.
  • Increase demand for beef within Canada by more effectively communicating the sustainability performance of the industry.

Moving forward

Cherie explained that the assessment will be an ongoing process, with updated surveys so that progress can be monitored.

This is a living document. It’s just a snapshot, and it will change for the next go round

“When you take a look at all the components of producing a pound of beef,” Cherie continued, “it’s given us the ability to really focus on the individual stages and see exactly how we can improve. It gives operators goals to focus on that are specific to their own part of the beef chain.”

If you would like more detail on the results of the assessment, the goals or the action items that will help us to achieve those goals, check out the National Beef Sustainability Assessment and Strategy Summary Report (PDF).

Why farm safety starts with people

Farm safety is a hot topic, and one that’s highly personal for many people in this industry.

As we discussed in ‘How the agriculture sector is pulling together to promote farm safety’, farm safety is unique in many ways. For instance, in no other industry do operators typically live and raise their families in the same place where they work. And in many instances, their employees are their family, friends and neighbours.

And yet, farming is one of the highest risk occupations in Canada. According to Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, there were an average of 17 farm-related deaths per year, between 1985 and 2010.

To put that number in perspective, it’s worth noting two things:

    1. Farm injury statistics do not differentiate between work related injuries on farms, and non-work related injuries.
    2. Because agriculture plays such a large role in Alberta’s economy and there are so many farms, the ratio of fatalities to the number of farms is one of the lowest rates of any province in Canada.

Is legislation the answer?

In Alberta, agriculture was exempt from provincial Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) legislation, but Bill 6 has changed that. OHS now applies to agriculture in Alberta. But there is dispute as to whether simply passing such legislation is really effective in reducing farm injuries. In provinces such as B.C., which included agriculture in OHS legislation in 2005, and Ontario, which did the same in 2006, there has been no significant impact.

In fact, in 2013, 42 per cent of Canada’s farm fatalities were in Ontario, on just 25 per cent of the nation’s farms.

Creating a culture of safety

If legislation has not proven to be the answer, then perhaps the solution must come from within the industry itself. We believe that reducing on-farm injuries and fatalities depends on creating a culture of safety that is built collaboratively by everyone involved in the industry.

This view is supported by recommendations made to the Minister of Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (PDF), by the Farm Safety Advisory Council in 2012. They advocated the establishment of a province-wide coordinating body to provide leadership, expertise and direction for farm safety awareness, education, training and certification.

Among their recommendations were an increase in educational resources, training and certification, as well as industry best practices, and government guidelines and policies.

What is safety culture?

Just as corporate culture can be defined by the values, beliefs and attitudes of people within an organization, so safety culture is characterized by the pervading behaviours and attitudes towards safety.

When organizations start to value safety as a practice, and to develop the practices and protocols in support of safe behaviours, then everyone within that organization is safer.

Some recent or ongoing farm safety initiatives with which the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association has been involved include:

For more information, check out the Farm Safety Advisory Council’s Recommendations to the Minister of Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, on Enhanced Farm Safety Education and Training.

Stay tuned as we continue to explore farm safety issues in upcoming blog posts. In the meantime, you can read our previous posts on the topic: ‘How safe is farm equipment’, and ‘How the agriculture sector is pulling together to promote farm safety’.