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The 7 stages of beef cattle production

That delicious Canadian beef meal you’re enjoying is the product of a series of businesses and producers, each of whom plays a distinct role in the process. Here’s a quick rundown of the steps taken, and the hard-working players involved, in bringing beef to your table.

Cattle breeding: This is the first step in the beef production chain, and can take place naturally or through artificial insemination. Cattle breeders work to raise cattle with specific and superior genetics that can be sold to cow-calf ranchers. There are about 10,000 breeders of registered beef cattle in Canada. Our national herd was originally built on traditional British breeds such as Angus, Hereford, Shorthorn and Galloway. French breeds such as Charolais, Simmental, Limousin and Maine Anjou were introduced later.

Cow-Calf Ranching: Cow-calf producers keep a herd of cows that are bred annually to produce a crop of calves. These cow-calf pairs are raised on pasture. 

Auction Markets: This is where cattle are bought and sold. There are many different types of sales.  Some sales are cow-calf pairs that can be purchased by ranchers. Feeder calves that are ready for finishing are bought by cattle feeders. Cattle are also purchased at auction by beef processors. Every year a Canadian Auctioneer Championship is held by the Livestock Markets Association of Canada (LMAC) to enable auctioneers to improve and showcase their unique skills.

Cattle Feeders: Cattle feeders typically purchase feeder calves anywhere from 600-900 pounds. These cattle enter a feeding operation where they are fed a high energy ration of forage and grain such as barley, wheat, or corn. Cattle can spend anywhere from 60-220 days at a feeding operation until they reach market weight of 1,400 to 1,500 pounds. In 2016 Canada fed 2.7 million cattle, and produced three billion pounds of beef. Most of these cattle came from modern feedlots that use modern production technologies to improve quality, enhance environmental sustainability, and build the international competitiveness of Canada’s beef industry.

Beef Processing: The meat-packing industry handles the processing of cattle and the harvesting of beef, as well as the packaging and distribution of beef products.

Retail: The end beef product is sold by packers to the final consumer through grocery stores and other retail outlets.

Export: Approximately 39 per cent of Canadian beef goes to export markets, such as the US, Asia, and Europe.

Food Service: This includes any business, institution or company that prepares meals outside the home for resale, and includes restaurants. 

All of these “sectors” in the beef value chain are supported by a variety of industry associations and organizations that help look out for the interests of their members and collaborate to grow and strengthen Canada’s beef industry. Check the interactive image to learn more.

Pressing cattle feeder issues discussed with politicians during Ottawa trip

Parliamentary Secretary for Trade, General Andrew Leslie addressing attendees at a townhall sponsored by University of Alberta and Global Affairs Canada.
Photo Credit: Casey Vander Ploeg

Last month, representatives of the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association headed to Ottawa to participate in a series of meetings between the National Cattle Feeders’ Association (NCFA) and Canadian politicians.

The meetings provided an opportunity to put the issues and challenges facing Canada’s cattle feeders in front of key members of government. The critical issues discussed included:

    • Labour: Changes are needed to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), so cattle feeders and beef processors can access desperately needed workers.  Employers are currently forced to endure a lengthy and convoluted process rife with red tape and changing requirements, which takes many months to complete.
    • Infrastructure: Significant funding is needed to upgrade rural infrastructure, particularly roads and bridges. Current investment is heavily swayed to urban areas, but it is the rural areas where much of the economic activity occurs, including mining, agriculture, oil and gas, and transportation.
    • NAFTA: A successful outcome to the negotiations is needed to encourage and facilitate international trade
    • TPP: Now called the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – even though the U.S. has now left the partnership, it is important for our industry that Canada signs on and keeps the negotiated market provisions as they were before. 
    • EU trade: EU approval of Canadian food safety practices will enable us to start filling our tariff-free quota under the agreement. 
    • China: Canada needs the same access to China as the U.S. successfully achieved in June 2017. Following a recent agriculture trade mission to China by Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay, bone-in beef will hopefully start moving soon and a pilot project will be created to export Canadian fresh-chilled beef.  While not the same access afforded to U.S. beef, it is a step in the right direction.

NCFA board meeting

During the same trip, an NCFA board meeting was held. Several influential officials attended to discuss pressing issues:

To learn more about other ways that ACFA advocates for Alberta’s cattle feeders, visit our Advocacy Page.

How a beef plant is setting a new standard in food safety

A beef processing plant which opened this year just north of Calgary is setting new industry standards for food safety, animal care and environmental stewardship.

This week, we’re exploring the food safety innovations introduced at Harmony Beef, which opened in Balzac, AB., in February 2017.

Hazard analysis and critical control points

The management team at Harmony Beef is committed to meeting or exceeding the stringent requirements of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s Food Safety Enhancement Program.

One of the cornerstones of the program is HACCP System (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points), a systematic approach to food safety that helps prevent, find and correct hazards throughout the production process.

At Harmony:

    • The plant and production protocols have been designed to meet European standards, which exceed those in North America.
    • Temperature control and air flow systems in the building were designed to control any potential microbial growth and prevent contamination.
    • Critical control points, where inspections and interventions take place, include everything from slaughter to packaging.
    • Supervisory and food safety personnel have the authority to enforce compliance with food safety systems on anyone entering and/or working in the facility.
    • All water used in the plant is treated, and the outflow exceeds Canadian drinking water standards.

Opening up a world of opportunity

Because the new plant demonstrably complies with European food safety standards, it provides the opportunity to increase our trade with EU countries.

International trade is crucial to the growth and sustainability of the beef industry, and to the contribution it makes to the Canadian economy. But, as you can learn in the blog post, Canadian beef in demand: feeding the European market and why it matters, Canada does not meet its tariff-free quota for beef exports to Europe. In the post, feedlot operator Jason Hagel says processing plants in Alberta tend to focus on the U.S. market, leaving the European market under-served.

You can read about another international trade issue concerning Canada’s beef producers in Canadian beef trade with China takes a serious blow.

In upcoming weeks, we will explore the high standards of animal care, including low-stress handling, and the environmental innovations introduced at the Harmony plant.

Meet the international trade expert who is helping support the Canadian beef industry abroad

John Weekes, an independent business advisor who has worked with the National Cattle Feeders’ Association (NCFA) on trade issues, is the subject of this week’s Meet the Team series profile.

John is an expert in international trade policy and a senior business advisor at Bennett Jones in Ottawa. He has been a huge asset to NCFA in developing a strategic approach to negotiating with government and stakeholders.

Supporting Canadian cattle feeders in Ottawa

During his career, John has been chief negotiator for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Canada’s ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO), chair of the WTO General Council, and ambassador to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) during the Uruguay Round of GATT negotiations. His insider’s perspective on governments’ approach to trade matters has been invaluable to NCFA.

Trade files he has worked on include:

Country-of-Origin Labelling (COOL)

In 2002, the U.S. introduced a regulation requiring all beef (and some other agriculture products) to have a label stating where it was from. To be labeled as U.S.-sourced, the animal had to be born, raised and processed in that country. Processing plants in the U.S. were required to keep Canadian born and raised animals separate from those born and raised in the U.S., a requirement that was costly to adhere to. As a result, Canadian exports to the U.S. suffered, and some U.S. plants were forced to close. Many jobs were lost on both sides of the border, and COOL cost the Canadian beef industry billions of dollars. 

Canada appealed to the WTO in 2008 and, in December 2015, won. The U.S. Congress repealed COOL to avoid $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs authorized in the WTO ruling. 

As Canada’s former ambassador to the WTO, John was uniquely positioned to provide advice through the complex web of WTO tribunals and the excruciatingly long appeals process. John worked with NCFA and others on this, including advising federal government officials. His contacts within the U.S. were also helpful in getting NCFA’s messages through in Washington, and he helped us communicate with Canadian importers who might have been harmed if Canada retaliated against U.S. imports into Canada.

Canada-E.U. Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)

This free trade deal between Canada and the EU came into effect on September 21, 2017. It will allow Canada to ship 65,000 metric tonnes of beef into the EU, without duty or tariffs. This could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Canada’s beef industry. John did a great job monitoring developments, needs and the political climate within the EU, and is continuing to contribute while the details are being finalized.   

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) 

Canada was not part of the group that began this trade negotiation, but NCFA urged the Canadian government to become part of the TPP process, which it did. John offered advice on what Canada should secure in this negotiation. Now that the U.S. has chosen not to ratify the deal, John will lend his expertise to a new round of negotiations with other TPP partners, if talks go ahead.

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) 

As Canada’s former Chief Negotiator for NAFTA, John has an unrivaled understanding of the ins and outs of the agreement, and his opinions are sought by industry and government during the current and ongoing negotiations with NAFTA.

Why international trade matters

Canadian beef is renowned worldwide for its great taste and high quality. A healthy export industry contributes to a healthy Canadian economy. Expertise such as John’s is vital to NCFA in securing the conditions our beef producers need to develop profitable relationships with customers across the globe.

You can read more about international trade issues in ‘Canadian beef trade with China takes a serious blow’, ‘Cattle feeders head to Ottawa to support NAFTA negotiations’, ‘Feeding the world: why the agri-food industry must be an economic priority’ and ‘How people in 58 countries enjoy Canadian beef’.

Canadian beef trade with China takes a serious blow

Recent trade developments between China and the U.S. have some Canadian beef producers seriously worried.

Their concern stems from the disparity between the types of product China will now accept from the U.S. and those accepted from Canada:

    • Currently, Canadian producers are only allowed to ship boneless, Under Thirty Months (UTM) frozen beef and only from individual processing plants that have been audited and approved by Chinese officials and certified for export to China by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
    • China’s trade deal with the U.S. allows American producers to ship boneless beef, bone-in beef, chilled beef, and certain offals from any federally-inspected and approved processor.

Canadian beef producers already suffering the impacts

Producers and industry associations have written letters to Agriculture Minister MacAulay, as well as trade officials, to inform them of the impacts this has on the Canadian beef market. Producers are trading directly into China and have met all the requirements necessary for sale of beef into China – and this is a tremendous opportunity that may fail without similar access to that achieved by the U.S.

Some Canadian producers are selling their product under the branded ‘Farm Gate to Chinese Plate’ program, and have a custom processing contract with a large processing plant here in Alberta. These producers have invested substantial time and capital over the past four years to build a strong relationship with their Chinese partners. In 2016, 10,000 head of Canadian cattle were exported to China. Producers were looking forward to increasing that to 15,000 head in 2017, but their Chinese customers have informed them they may change the order, and want it for a lower price.

Canadian producers are selling product into China for high-end retail and restaurants, but they can only ship frozen, boneless product. The fact that the U.S. is now allowed to ship fresh or chilled bone-in beef puts Canadian producers at a distinct disadvantage in this marketplace. This may end trade with the Chinese for Canadian beef producers as a result.

Canadian trade with China

To date, China has expanded its acceptance of Canadian product in stages, where additional product lines are allowed access over time. For instance, China agreed to accept Canadian bone-in beef back in September 2016, but the agreement has not yet been finalized, so currently, no bone-in product is being shipped. However, the recent agreement with the U.S. shows that China can work on opening many beef product lines at the same time. The hope is that Canadian negotiators can secure the same treatment for Canada.

Canadian beef producers have expressed concerns over the fact that their industry depends on global trade – they need to be competitive for the growth and sustainability of their industry. China is a market where producers need the Canadian government to step up its efforts to gain access similar to that achieved by the U.S.

Learn more about Canada’s beef trade with China from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

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.

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.’

Quiz: how has cattle feeding contributed to 150 years of Canadian prosperity?

2017 is a momentous year for Canadians, as we celebrate our nation’s 150th birthday. But did you know that the Canadian beef industry has been around for about that long too?

As we move toward Canada 150, we thought we’d have a little fun with a look at how the cattle feeding industry has contributed to Canada over the last century and a half. Take this quiz to find out how well you know your feedlot history:

Canada’s come a long way in 150 years – and so has the beef industry! You can learn more about the history of Alberta’s feedlots in ‘From Start to Finish: An Illustrated History of Cattle Feeding in Alberta’ (PDF).

 

If you enjoyed this quiz, you might also enjoy this earlier one from our blog: ‘How well do you know your beef?’

Cattle traceability and Canada’s place as a global beef producer: how a tag retention study is helping

Canada has a reputation for producing some of the finest beef in the world. Part of what cements this international standing is our ability to accurately track cattle from their farm of origin right through to slaughter. Using radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, beef producers provide detailed information about each animal, including health and feed histories.

While this technology already sets Canada apart from other countries, there’s always room for improvement. One of the major concerns for livestock producers has been tags that fall off or become compromised, but until recently the degree of this problem was unclear. To address the issue, Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) commenced a National Tag Retention Project in 2011. This project studied the long-term viability of the tags in use.

We spoke with Paul Laronde, tag and technology manager at CCIA, about the project, which was four years in the making.

Q: Why was the tag retention project deemed necessary?

Paul: Tags are mandatory within the system for all cattle leaving the farm of origin. Tag retention is affected by a number of things, and it affects all livestock operators differently. While some industry members have little or no problem with tag retention, others are frustrated by tag loss, which costs time and money. Though there is a lot of anecdotal evidence regarding tag loss from industry members, it was determined that a science-based trial may be able to narrow down the causes and rates of tag loss that are outside of a livestock operator’s control.

Q: Was there a sense before the trial of the expected results?

Paul: Going into the trial, there were no expectations. As a research trial, it is important to generate unbiased data from actual field conditions. It was so important to remove bias from the testing that experienced, third-party cattle-handling experts – professional cowboys – were contracted to apply the approved tags to animals involved in the trial. Since there were no assumptions made about the research trial, there were no surprises.

Q: What were the results?

Paul: We gathered real-world tag retention data, which was analyzed by expert scientists to ensure the data interpretation was valid and relatable to industry. Among the learnings resulting from the trial, were the different retention rates between various tag applicators, and the preference by the professional cowboys for particular applicator(s). CCIA encourages livestock operators to try another brand of tags with matching applicator, if they are experiencing any challenges or frustration with the tag application process.

Q: What are some of the solutions that will be recommended?

Paul: Approved tags performed well for the majority of this study. The comments from the researchers that applied tags have been shared with each approved tag manufacturer as feedback, with the continued goal of working together to improve tag and applicator design and retention in future. One of the critical outputs of the project was to highlight the need for further tag testing – to build on this project’s results and to test tags in the field for longer periods of time.

Moving forward to improve tag retention and effectiveness

CCIA will use the results of this study to recommend solutions for maximizing tag retention and readability, and also to hold manufacturers accountable for the performance of their own products.

You can learn more about the role RFID technology plays in the Canadian beef export market in ‘Why traceability is making Canada a world leader in beef production.’ In other posts you can learn about how RFID technology is assisting with the development of verified sustainable beef and with alleviating the agricultural labour crisis.

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.