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How to Make Canadian Beef Competitive

04 February 2014

Information about the Canadian beef industry needs to be shared and colloboration promoted in order to catch up with poultry, writes Lisa Guenther for Genome Alberta.

At the close of 2013, the Beef Straw Man group published a report to spur the beef industry towards greater profitability, competitiveness, and sustainability. The final report covers everything from leadership to information flow to funding.

Anyone with a stake in the beef industry should take a look at the report. It only weighs in at 12 pages, and so is well worth the time.

Mike McMorris, BIO’s general manager, was on the information flow task team. He took some time last week to give me an insider’s perspective on the report.

This wasn’t McMorris’ first time at the rodeo. A few years ago he participated in a similar exercise through the Ontario Beef Value Chain Roundtable.

“There are so many reports on the shelf that say the same things over the years,” he says.

Reports keep getting written because the fundamental issue in the beef industry is never addressed, McMorris points out. “Parts of the industry need to work together to incite the change many say they want.”

But McMorris says there was a positive mood with this task team. He attributes this to the energy of Kim McConnell, who was driving the process. McConnell is probably best known as the founder of AdFarm.

McMorris summarised the Straw Man reports recommendations as follows:

  1. Collaborate for the sake of allowing change.
  2. Develop a plan the entire chain agrees with and set associated performance targets.
  3. Ensure information flow can drive change and targets to be met (he covers this in more detail in a recent article.)
  4. Ensure adequate funding for marketing and research.
  5. Communicate. McMorris states a plan is key, but useless without ongoing honest communication. All parties must be willing to collaborate.
  6. There have been several systems developed to improve information flow between different sectors within the industry, but all are struggling to get people onboard, McMorris says. For example, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association offers an information management system, called BIXS, for free.

Although BIO offers its own information management system, McMorris says he is “a complete supporter of BIXS.” Systems such as BIXS allow producers to age verify their calves. And most producers could get carcass data back, free of charge, McMorris says.

But people haven’t been using BIXS. McMorris has pondered this, and he says “based on the market signals we have, why would you bother? If there are no market signals, what’s the advantage?”

The beef industry is made up of many individual businesses in different sectors, “each with a CEO and each making decisions that make sense in their little part of the supply chain,” McMorris wrote via email.

Players in each sector need to get on board with these information management systems, or there will be little incentive for anyone to use them. McMorris says if a cow-calf person uses the system “but the feedlot person and the packer don’t get involved, what’s the advantage?”

While it may be tempting to stick to the status quo, the beef industry will pay a high cost.

“If you look back 30 years ago and look at beef consumption per capita and chicken, it’s completely reversed. Why? Well, due in part to the fact that we’re not collaborating, we’re not sharing information, we don’t have common goals.”

“So what have they (chicken producers) done on growth rate and feed efficiency? They’re completely blowing us out of the water.”

McMorris adds beef producers are also competing with grain farmers for land.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. McMorris sees opportunities if the beef industry takes action. Next week we’ll cover how the industry might make needed changes, what opportunities that would create, and how all this could affect beef research and genetics.

February 2014

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