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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.

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.

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.