As a rancher, farmer, agvocate, Cattlemen’s Young Leader, and all-around agriculture enthusiast, I’m always looking for opportunities to share my passion.
About a month ago, one of those great opportunities found me. A National Cattlemen’s Beef Association representative had been present at our Cattlemen’s Young Leaders Forum in April to speak about communicating agriculture. She was excited about what the CYL program is offering youth in the cattle industry, and requested that Fawn Jackson and I attend the NCBA Young Cattlemen’s Conference during their stop in Washington, D.C.
With a few phone calls and some planning, our trip was set for June 8-12. Fawn attended on behalf of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association as their Policy Analyst Assistant, and I attended as a graduate of the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders program, sponsored by the Canadian Embassy.
The YCC tour has been grooming beef advocates between the ages of 25 and 50 for 32 consecutive years. The 2011 version started in Denver to visit NCBA Headquarters, the JBS Five Rivers Kuner Feedyard, and the JBS Greely facility. It moved on to Chicago where participants took in the Chicago Board of Trade & OSI Inc., finishing up in Washington, D.C., where young cattlemen had the opportunity to speak with their congressman and senators about current issues.
YCC participants were primarily farmers and ranchers, many with careers in policy, agribusiness, and beef technology and genetics. They had spent the tour getting a comprehensive look at their own cattle industry, so the goal of our presentation was to give them a little insight into Canada’s.
Our presentation at the Canadian Embassy gave an overview of Canadian agriculture, our trade relations and history with the United States, and programs of interest like our national traceability and Cattlemen’s Young Leaders. We shared a few facts and statistics about the magnitude of trade between Canada and the US- greater than all BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries combined, and discussion points to encourage questions. The hot button topics were, as expected, Country of Origin Labelling and traceability. COOL seems to be well understood by American cattlemen, with their questions centering on how it had affected us as Canadians. The answer is that it created less demand for our beef due to mandatory sorting and therefore higher costs for American processors, and the Americans agreed they saw far more harm than benefit from COOL.
Traceability is not so clear. We were challenged as to how the mandatory system in Canada came to be, and how the US can follow in its footsteps. The general consensus from the group seemed to be that they understood a national traceability system was coming for the US, and rather it should, but they aren’t sure how to get there. I answered this question by explaining that it’s very much a cost vs. benefit dilemma- the cost being that of implementing a traceability program (database, RFID buttons, scanners, national cooperation) and the benefit being access to foreign markets, particularly in Asia, and appeal to consumers. It’s clear the US wants into these markets and that they are working towards making every possible concession to get there. However, the cattle producers of America will take time to adjust to the costly program and many may not see its direct benefits. For the time being, I think expanding voluntary traceability, possibly with incentive, will be the goal of US cattle boards.
We were also able to sit in on a YCC alumni panel of professionals working in the food industry, and a Five Nations Beef Alliance panel composed of an Embassy representative from Canada, USA, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand. One of the highlights for Fawn and I was sitting in a DC sports bar visiting with the Canadian, New Zealand, and Australian Embassy diplomats discussing their careers and foreign trade.
Conferences such as YCC are exactly what the beef industry needs to move forward and establish solid ground for the next generation of leaders. Participants came away from the conference with a global rather than national view of agriculture, and an eagerness to start advocating for the beef industry.
It makes me excited to be involved in this rapidly growing industry, and even more excited that my specific interest, communicating agriculture, is one of the top issues cattlemen are talking about.
A friend asked me why I would fly across the continent for a twenty minute speech. Well, I didn’t. I flew across the continent to share my passion, and to hear from others about what they’re doing to move the beef industry forward. I flew across the continent to make invaluable contacts and have insightful conversations about issues that are important to me. I always come away from conferences and events like this one with a strong reminder of why I do what I do, and an excitement to carry what I learned into my current and future involvement in agriculture. Building strong relationships with future industry leaders in our strongest trade partner country will prove to be invaluable.
I feel honoured to have been asked to represent the Canadian cattle industry, and beyond appreciative of the opportunity. Thank you to the Canadian Embassy, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders program, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association for making this experience possible.