Can Canada’s beef producers benefit from online sales?

This is the second post in our Spotlight on the Speakers series, featuring speakers from February’s Alberta Beef Industry Conference.

In our first post, we looked at the changing faces, places and consumption patterns of the Canadian beef market. This week, we’re learning how the retail trend toward online sales will affect beef producers.

Don Close, vice-president of food and agribusiness research at Rabo AgriFinance, explained that brick and mortar sales are flat, while online sales are growing and evolving. “I don’t think it’s necessarily detrimental to the beef industry,” he said. “It’s more that it provides an opportunity to access consumers via a different channel.”

“The biggest change,” Don said, “will be experienced by beef processors. They should expect changes in where they are delivering, servicing and distributing products to consumers. For most individual producers there will likely not be any meaningful change.”

Online opportunities

For those beef producers keen to take advantage of the trend, the online market offers a unique opportunity to establish their own branded products. “It opens up a new marketplace for individual producers, particularly if they have cattle with an exceptional set of genetics and want to capture a premium price for their premium product,” said Don.

Online sales could potentially provide beef producers with the ability to promote beef to consumers who are more typically non-consumers, or light-consumers, of beef. It could also provide an opportunity to persuade beef eaters to try different cuts or products.

Don explained that the biggest hurdle to creating meaningful sales via the online market is the investment required in branding, marketing and online sales tools.

“The tendency of the consumer is to choose large, national brands with a known identity,” said Don. “They have a high level of trust with those providers and they know what to expect. They are less likely to try the smaller, lesser-known brand.”

The sales and marketing resources necessary to make an impact on the online food market could potentially be more accessible to groups or collectives, rather than individual producers, he added.

You can hear more from Don in this video entitled ‘From the cart to the keyboard: how food purchasing habits will impact the beef industry’.


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.

3 ways the IAC supports agriculture during Stampede

For ten days in July, the City of Calgary is all about livestock. The Calgary Stampede and Exhibition is a chance for people from around the world to don their cowboy duds and have some rodeo fun. For Alberta’s beef industry, though, it’s no vacation. Producers showcase their businesses and skills and become ambassadors for one of Alberta’s primary industries.

An organization that truly comes into its own during Stampede is the International Agriculture and Agri-Food Committee (IAC). Comprised of members and sponsors from all along the agriculture value chain, the committee provides a link between different agricultural communities, and with the people they feed.

IAC Committee










Although the committee works hard all year organizing events and tours, the ten days of Stampede are a whirlwind of networking and educational opportunities designed to build community and support for the industry.

3 highlights of the committee’s Stampede activities

#1 “Where in the World Do You Farm?” This drop-in reception in the Agrium Western Event Centre is a chance for farmers from across the world to meet, network, and learn about business opportunities.

#2 The Agriculture and Agri-Food International Reception. Held in the Palomino Room on the Wednesday of Stampede week, this reception brings together government officials, dignitaries, industry members, producer associations and sponsors.

#3 The Canada-Mexico Agribusiness Opportunities Seminar. Now in its second year, the seminar is hosted in conjunction with the Consulate of Mexico in Calgary. It provides participants with a better understanding of the agribusiness prospects that exist between Canada and Mexico, and provides information on some of the ways these two countries are working to support mutual economic growth within the sector.

According to Bryan Walton, ACFA’s President and CEO, and an IAC committee member, “the ultimate goal is to spread the word of Stampede, promote the agriculture industry here and encourage return visits. It’s a great opportunity to do some serious business in a relaxed setting.”

In 2017, the IAC hosted more than 2,000 people in the drop-in reception room, and fed 430 people at the reception dinner. That’s a lot of contacts made, and a great deal of networking!

The work done to support trade and industry growth during Stampede is in alignment with the ACFA’s strategic priorities. You can read more in ‘How these four strategic priorities will build a better Alberta cattle feeding industry’.