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Mark your calendar for the Alberta Beef Industry Conference

The Alberta Beef Industry Conference is less than two months away, taking place at the Sheraton Red Deer Hotel from March 12-14, 2019.

The event is one of Canada’s largest beef conferences and trade shows, and provides an opportunity for the industry to come together to learn, to network and to discover the latest products and innovations.

As one of the five hosts of the conference, the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association is delighted to work alongside Alberta Beef Producers, Alberta Auction Markets Association, Alberta Livestock Dealers and Order Buyers Association, and the Western Stock Growers’ Association.

Once again, there is a line-up of speakers who have a wealth of industry or subject expertise to share. We look forward to hearing their insights on the industry’s most pressing issues. Here are some of the highlights:

Brad Wall: Western Canada’s Economy: Risks and Opportunities; Offense and Defense 

Brad will speak about the current political landscape and its impact on Western Canada.

Amber MacArthur and Marty Seymour: If the Future is Different Than the Past, is Your Business Ready?

Learn what your business needs to do to adapt to changing times.

Chief Clarence Louie: Cowboys & Indians – Causing Disruption to Create Economic Prosperity

Hear how he turned a bankrupt band into a multi-faceted corporation that employs hundreds of people.

Dr. Frank Mitloehner: Sustainability in Beef – the Nexus Between Productivity and Environmental Performance

A look at environmental mitigation opportunities, especially in the areas of carbon emission reductions, welfare and health.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois: The Rise of the Conscious Carnivore? The Good, the Bad, and the Awfully Ugly

Advice on dealing with the vegetarian and vegan movements.

Marie-Noelle Desrochers: Trade Agreements That Matter for Canada

An insider’s perspective on governments’ approach to trade matters and the impact it has on the Canadian beef industry.

Brett House: Global Economic Outlook Amidst Rising Uncertainty

What’s ahead for the global economy.

Brett Stuart: Global Beef & Protein Outlook

A view of the global beef landscape, including international trade and health issues.

Brian Perillat: CanFax Market Update

The beef industry’s supply and demand dynamics, and current Canadian price trends.

Art Douglas: 2019-20 Weather Forecast

The upcoming forecast, and a discussion of the impact weather patterns have on the beef industry.

The ever-popular Danny Hooper returns as master of ceremonies, and comedian John Hastings will be entertaining us during the Taste of Alberta dinner on Wednesday evening.

Mark your calendars for another not-to-miss event – you can register here.

Will eating less meat benefit the environment?

We hear a great deal in the media about the negative impacts of livestock production on the environment. Unfortunately, that’s only half the story, and it’s time for people to take a more balanced look at how to best feed a hungry world.

Why plant crops are not the only answer

All agricultural activities have the potential to create both negative and positive environmental impacts. 

Beef cattle contribute approximately 2.4 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But beef production also has many environmental benefits: 

Carbon sequestration: One acre of healthy grassland can store more than 80 tonnes of carbon. Figures citing beef production emissions do not take into account the approximately 1.5 billion tonnes of GHGs naturally sequestered from the atmosphere by grasslands and pasture.

Biodiversity: Although cattle production uses 33 per cent of Canada’s agricultural land, it supports biodiversity and provides 68 per cent of the Wildlife Habitat Capacity of all agricultural land in Canada (CRSB, 2016).

At-risk species: Several at-risk species, such as burrowing owls, swift fox, greater prairie chicken, sage grouse, black-tailed prairie dogs, and loggerhead shrikes prefer unbroken pasture as their habitat.

Water management: Grasslands help maintain watersheds, which in turn help prevent drought and flooding.

Erosion: Grasslands also help prevent erosion.

Regeneration of unusable land: Grasslands account for about 33 per cent of Canada’s agricultural land, but this is primarily land that is unsuitable for crop production. While beef production makes use of land that is too rocky, hilly, boggy or dry for crop production, it also naturally replenishes and adds nutrients to the soil.

Replacing beef with plant crops would require moving more land into cultivation. This will result in a loss of natural grasslands, the release of soil carbon, reduced biodiversity and the potential loss of several at-risk species. This does not take into account the environmental and financial costs involved in converting native grasslands to crops, then continually irrigating and replenishing the land to maintain those crops.

How did beef production get such a bad rap?

The oft-quoted negative impacts of beef production on the environment come primarily from two discredited sources:

‘Livestock’s Long Shadow’ was a 2006 UN study that cites a number of incorrect facts, statistics and statements. For example, it asserted that 18 per cent of global GHG emissions come from livestock. Later studies conducted by the World Resources Institute (WRI) conclude that the true figure is only about five per cent. 

‘Cowspiracy’ is a 2014 Hollywood film which likewise uses incorrect facts and statements to argue that we should move away from a meat-based diet.

Despite the fact that these two sources have been emphatically discredited and disproved, they are still incorrectly quoted as ‘proof’ that livestock production is environmentally unsustainable.

Continued improvement

Like any responsible industry, Canada’s beef producers are dedicated to improving their impact on the environment. The true facts about Canadian beef’s contribution to climate change reflect this effort:

– Canadian beef has one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world: 11.4 kg of carbon dioxide per one kg of live cattle weight.

– Cattle contribute very little to total Canadian and global GHG emissions: GHGs from cattle are 2.4 per cent of total Canadian GHG emissions and 0.04 per cent of total global GHG emissions. In Canada, 28 per cent of GHGs come from transportation.

– Canada’s beef industry reduced its GHG footprint by 14 per cent from 1981 to 2011. Canada now produces the same amount of beef with 29 per cent less breeding stock, 27 per cent less slaughter cattle, and 24 per cent less land.

Cattle feeding and the environment

In Canada, beef cattle are primarily raised on natural grassland and pasture for about 12 to 15 months, and then they are ‘finished’, often at a feedlot, using high-energy grain rations. 

85 per cent of the grain fed to livestock is unfit for human consumption and would otherwise be considered waste.

This combination of pasture followed by feedlot allows us to use less land, less water and emit fewer greenhouse gases, putting Canadian beef producers among the most efficient in the world.

Making up your mind with all the facts

Next time you’re faced with a delicious, nutritious steak, consider that beef production has many benefits for the environment, and that beef producers are working successfully to reduce any impacts that their activities do have. 

Not only is beef an important part of a healthy, balanced diet, it’s production also plays an important role in protecting our native grasslands and supporting Canadian wildlife and eco-systems.

Test your cattle feeders knowledge

Throughout 2018, we have provided you with insights and facts on Alberta’s cattle feeding industry. This holiday, take a few minutes to test how much you have learned from those posts.

The cattle feeders quiz has questions drawn from this year’s blogs. Some of the questions are easy, some a little trickier, and all the answers can be found in blog posts from 2018.

Answers:

1, B; 2, A; 3, B; 4, A; 5, A; 6, B; 7, C; 8, B

How did you do?

If you got all eight questions right, you’re a cattle feeder guru! If you got five to seven questions right, you’ve obviously been paying attention all year. If you got four or fewer, don’t worry — we’ll provide more great cattle feeder information throughout 2019.

Next week, we’ll be reviewing what our industry and our organization has been up to in the past year.

In the meantime, we wish you, and your friends and family a safe and happy holiday.

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 truth about beef production and sustainability

Canada’s beef producers want consumers to know that they are producing good, healthy food in a sustainable way. 

But, what does sustainable mean, and what are beef producers doing to foster responsible production? For answers to these questions we turned to the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB).

CRSB is a collaborative, multi-stakeholder organization dedicated to promoting sustainability throughout the Canadian beef industry. They have three main pillars of focus: 

1) Sustainability benchmarking – a farm-to-fork assessment of the overall performance of the Canadian beef industry from environmental, social and economic perspectives.

2) The Certified Sustainable Beef Framework, which provides a tool for producers to attain certification against sustainability standards, which can then be communicated to consumers.

3) Sustainability projects, which help advance continuous improvement for sustainability in the Canadian beef industry.

“We define sustainability as a socially responsible, economically viable and environmentally sound product that prioritizes the planet, people, animals and progress,” said Andrea White, CRSB’s community engagement manager.

CRSB has adopted the same five focus areas as the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB): natural resources; people and the community; animal health and welfare; food; and efficiency and innovation. 

Some recent projects which have come from the organization include the National Beef Sustainability Assessment and Strategy (2016), CRSB Certified Sustainable Beef Framework (2018), collaboration on a Species at Risk on Agricultural Lands project, intended to maintain and enhance wildlife habitat, and a study evaluating consumer perceptions of beef sustainability.

How is the beef industry doing on sustainability?

“One of our priorities is to teach the public that beef production in Canada is already sustainable,” Andrea said. “There are a lot of loud voices out there telling very small pieces of the story, but they often don’t talk about the many ways beef production actually benefits the environment. By working together as an industry, we can tell the whole story, and demonstrate the good work we are doing.”

You can read about the ways beef production benefits the environment in ‘4 things you should know about beef production and the environment’.

Through a combination of sustainability projects and public outreach, the CRSB aims to support continuous improvement in the industry’s sustainability performance, while simultaneously creating public awareness of the true facts about the impact of beef production on communities, animal care and the environment. “Sustainability is a journey, not an end point,” said Andrea.

Cattle feeders and sustainability

Sustainability is a top priority for Alberta’s cattle feeders, so the appointment of Les Wall of KCL Cattle Co., in Coaldale Alberta, to the CRSB Council is good news. 

“We are pleased to have Les Wall, a progressive and innovative producer, join the CRSB Council,” said Anne Wasko, CRSB chair. “We look forward to his valuable expertise and experience in representing the cattle feeding sector on our multi-stakeholder leadership team, to help propel the sustainability of Canadian beef forward.”

To learn more about the work that cattle feeders are doing to improve the sustainability of their operations, check out ‘The beef industry and sustainability: how are we doing and where could we improve?

Alberta sunshine provides an environmentally friendly energy source to cattle feeders

Alberta’s cattle feeders work hard to reduce their environmental footprint, and many are turning to solar energy for help.

KCL Cattle Company is one feedlot that’s taking advantage of Alberta government subsidies to install solar panels. Check out this short video in which Les Wall is interviewed about their decision to use solar energy:

Other initiatives to help reduce the environmental footprint of Alberta’s beef industry include ongoing emissions research, environmental impact studies and collaboration with organizations such as the Natural Resources Conservation Board (NRCB) Policy Advisory Group and Agri-Environmental Partnership of Alberta.

Read more about beef production and the environment in ‘The beef industry and sustainability: how are we doing and where could we improve?’.

From oil sands to oil seed: How inter-industry collaboration is good for Canada

Two major Alberta industries — agriculture and oil and gas — are collaborating to generate novel ideas that will benefit the environment and improve sustainability.

The collaboration was triggered by a March 2017 announcement that the federal government would provide up to $950 million in funding under the Innovation Superclusters Initiative.

The “supercluster” concept encourages small, medium and large companies, academic institutions and not-for-profit organizations to come together to generate bold ideas. The potential outcome of these collaborations is more well-paying jobs, groundbreaking research and a world-leading innovation economy.

An agricultural cluster – Smart Agri-Foods Supercluster (SASC) – was formed in response to the federal announcement.

What SASC is working toward

SASC is an open system for collaboration across all sectors of the agri-foods value chain, including agri-foods producers, processors and research, as well as players from outside the traditional agriculture sector.

By providing a venue for these participants to join across diverse fields and from different parts of the country, the SASC is facilitating innovation and research that otherwise might not happen.

Four initial “innovation communities” were established:

  1. Digital Connectivity – intended to develop technologies and tools for today’s (and tomorrow’s) smart farm.
  2. Genetic/Processing – including soil and root intelligence, protein and processing innovations and photosynthetic efficiency.
  3. Sustainable Livestock – to more efficiently and sustainably produce premium meat protein.
  4. Bio Economy and Sustainability – to improve sustainable performance, farm management and trading platforms.

Collaborating with oil and gas

Bill Whitelaw, chair of the SASC steering committee, suggested to the group that the agriculture and oil and gas sectors collaborate on some of their joint challenges. Bill is also president and CEO of JWN Energy and vice-president of Weather Innovations, so his knowledge of both sectors is extensive.

“Agriculture and energy share many of the same environmental and sustainability challenges,” said Bill, “so it makes sense to bring in the oil and gas sector on the basis of air, water and land innovations. As part of that collaboration, we invited Joy Romero, head of the Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN) to join the SASC board.”

Why the partnership is the way forward

Bill used water as an example to explain how a collaboration could benefit both industries.

“These are two sectors that use huge amounts of water in their operations and produce huge amounts of waste water. There is an opportunity for the two industries to get together and share innovations or research when it comes to water management or treatment,” he said.

“For instance, technology developed to clean waste water from a fracking operation could be just as effective in a feedlot. Joint solutions could help the sectors to manage their costs and to take a joint view on managing our resources.”

It also gives the industries an opportunity to demonstrate that they are taking these issues seriously and actively developing solutions.

Government funding

Although the SASC was one of nine superclusters shortlisted for funding, they were not among the final five selected.

“But we still exist and all the original companies are still active in the supercluster,” Bill said.

“We have made our home in Olds College and are using their smart farm to create demonstration projects. Potentially, you could see an oil sands company working with an agri-fertilizer company to fund an initiative under the air, water and land banner.”

Agriculture and oil and gas are two core industries in Alberta – and both sectors are working with our key natural resources. The groundbreaking collaboration between these two sectors, and academic and research institutions is an exciting development for the industries themselves and Canadians generally.

We will report on their progress as projects unfold.

Busted! 5 beef myths that don’t stand up to the facts

When it comes to the food you eat, you want to know the facts. Is it sustainably and ethically produced? Is it good for you? Unfortunately, the many misconceptions surrounding beef production make it hard to get accurate, reliable information. Here are five of the most common myths:

Myth #1 Pastureland is a waste of good agricultural land

Most cattle are pastured on land that is unsuitable for crop production, for instance, because it is too hilly, stony, boggy or dry. Those grasslands also help maintain watersheds, sequester carbon, prevent erosion and support biodiversity.

In the feedlot, the animals are typically fed grains that do not meet specifications for human consumption and would otherwise be wasted.

Myth #2 Beef is bad for your health

Red meats are the best source of high-quality dietary protein relative to caloric intake, as well as being rich in nutrients, such as zinc, iron and Vitamin B12.

Recent research has shown that the advice to eat less red meat could result in an increased incidence of iron-deficiency anemia – and it has been documented that Canadians, on average, are not consuming the recommended serving of red meat within the current Canadian Food Guide recommendations for meat and alternatives.

Myth #3 Antibiotic-free beef is better for you

The use of antibiotics in food animals is strictly regulated, and feedlots work closely with veterinarians to ensure they are used appropriately. There are mandatory withdrawal times between the use of an antibiotic and the harvesting of an animal, to ensure the meat is antibiotic-free.

Without the use of antibiotics, animals can get sick, suffer and die, even though there are no known food safety benefits.

Myth #4 Cattle in feedlots are kept in cramped, unsanitary conditions

Cattle in feedlots are provided with spacious pens that allow each animal ample room to move and interact naturally. To ensure the cattle are comfortable during their stay, bedding is added regularly for resting as well as warmth in the winter. Timely removal of animal waste helps keep animals healthy and ensure their well-being. Cattle are also given ample amounts of clean, fresh water and a nutritious, easily digestible, high-energy diet consisting of 80% grains and 20% forages.

Myth #5 Hormone-free beef is better for you

Research has shown that any hormones in the meat we consume are broken down by digestive enzymes and stomach acid. Very little reaches the bloodstream. For those concerned about hormones, there are two important points to note:

    • No meat is hormone-free! All animals have hormones naturally occurring in their systems.
    • When you eat a burger, there are more hormones in the bun than in the meat.

Next week on this blog, Roy Lewis, of Westlock Veterinary Center, north of Edmonton, will explain why the use of hormones in food animals is not just safe, but also an environmentally responsible way to raise food.

How Project Clean Cow is reducing cattle methane emissions by up to half

Cows require an exceptional digestive system to thrive on a diet of grass and other plant materials.

These ruminants have a stomach with four compartments, the first of which is called the rumen. Micro-organisms in the rumen ferment the food and start the digestive process. Each time the cow regurgitates and re-chews the food, this microbial activity breaks down cellulose, fibre and carbohydrates into usable compounds.

An unfortunate byproduct of this digestive process is methane. Cows have been identified as a significant source of greenhouses gases, and the beef industry is committed to minimizing its impact.

Project Clean Cow is a 10-year research project that holds promise of a solution.

Spearheaded by DSM, a global science-based company and a world leader in the field of animal nutrition, the project has developed a feed additive that reduces the methane created through the digestive process of cattle.

“The current Clean Cow project started in 2007, as part of a bigger initiative at DSM called the Climate Change Induced Innovation Project,” said Hugh Welsh, president, North America, at DSM. “Our goal was to develop a feed supplement for ruminants which would reduce methane emissions by at least 30 per cent. This would substantially lower the GHG footprint of cattle, and potentially have a meaningful impact on global climate change-related emissions.”

The project started with input from biologists and chemists at DSM’s research and development unit in Switzerland, as well as experts in ruminant science and animal nutrition. It has since expanded to include an international scientific network.

The result is a feed supplement that consistently reduces the methane produced by ruminants (dairy cows, beef cattle and sheep) by 30 to 50 per cent.

What happens next?

“Our next step is to work hand-in-hand with industry and the scientific community for product launch,” said Hugh.

As a starting point, DSM has commissioned a large-scale field trial to demonstrate the viability of feeding the compound in backgrounding and finishing operations. Field tests by Viresco Solutions, an environmental consulting firm based in Calgary, AB, should be complete by the end of this year. Cattle will be fed with flaked corn, flaked barley and standard barley, in addition to the supplement, to see if there are any effects on animal performance, health or carcass quality.

“Viresco took the lead in applying to Emissions Reduction Alberta to share in the risk of testing at commercial scales”, explained Karen Haugen-Kozyra, President at Viresco.  “We call this ‘on the road to low carbon beef’ – if combined with regenerative ranching, increased feed efficiency and testing new feeding technologies, the entire sustainability story for beef production in Alberta becomes really attractive. We are proud that DSM chose Alberta to test their innovative approach.”

As we learned in a previous blog post, ammonia is another greenhouse gas emitted by cattle. Emissions research, conducted in Lethbridge by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, is helping us to understand ammonia’s environmental impact, and find ways to minimize it.

Environmental stewardship is a science at Harmony Beef

Canada’s beef producers care about the environment – after all, their livelihoods depend on the health of the land where they work. Through ongoing research, innovation and best practices, they constantly strive to minimize their impact.

In parts 1 and 2 of our series on Harmony Beef, we showcased the food safety and animal care innovations practised at the new beef processing plant north of Calgary. The plant’s environmental stewardship systems are also leading edge.

“We aren’t just in the business of producing beef,” said marketing director, Cam Daniels. “We want to create the most value and show exceptional regard for everything that is touched along the way.”

Sustainability practices at the plant include:

    • Cattle waste is collected, dried, composted and turned into fertilizer.
    • Packaging is eco-friendly.
    • Waste heat from the refrigeration units is captured and used to warm the floors and barn.
    • A recycling program ensures all waste is managed responsibly.
    • More than 94 per cent of the water used is recycled.

An industry leading water treatment facility

During the plant’s design, owner Rich Vesta traveled to Holland to purchase a state-of-the-art water treatment system. Installed by a Calgary-based company, the system cleans the waste water to a standard higher than Canadian drinking water standards.

Water used in production processes and equipment cleaning comes from the water treatment system, reducing water usage at the plant by more than 96 per cent. That’s a reduction from 500,000 gallons per day to 18,000 gallons per day.

Water treatment system at Harmony Beef“We’re very proud of our water treatment plant because it demonstrates our high technology and our commitment to environmental stewardship,” said Cam.

Check out the other two posts on Harmony Beef: ‘How a beef plant is setting a new standard in food safety’ and ‘How respect for the animals that feed us aligns with beef cattle production’.