Efficiency key in organic beef production

The industry needs organic finishing, processing and distribution to lower costs: producer

BEAUMONT, Alta. — There is good margin in the organic beef industry for some people but not for everyone, says organic beef producer Tim Hoven.

He said the organic beef industry must become more efficient feeding, finishing, slaughtering and distributing its product if it is to survive and thrive.

“There is not enough money in the whole system to keep the whole system going,” Hoven told the Organic Alberta conference.

He believes the organic industry will continue to grow, but producers must work together to cut costs and make the final product affordable to consumers.

“There must be some way the industry can work together and move forward,” he said.

“Define your niche and somehow work together so we can all have a better living.”

Hoven was one of the few people selling meat directly to consumers before BSE, but he said almost 14 years of driving across central Alberta delivering meat to customers and stores took its toll.

He has stopped his direct sales business to concentrate on raising livestock.

“There is not enough time in the day to be a producer and marketer. You need to specialize,” said Hoven of Eckville, Alta.

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The commercial cattle industry is broken into cow-calf producer, backgrounder, finisher and distributor, and the organic beef industry needs to do the same to become more efficient.

“There needs to be a place where cow-calf producers can send their animals to be finished as efficiently as possible.”

He said consumers will become frustrated and abandon organic meet if the industry doesn’t work together.

“In the future, we need to have organic processors, distributors to make it easier for consumers.”

Mike Beretta, chief executive officer of One Earth Farms, said it cannot keep up with the demand for its organic and natural beef.

Sales of organic beef could double over night if more was produced.

The biggest barrier to producing more beef is finding more organic feed, he added

“We’d like to increase sales but can’t find feed,” Beretta told the conference.

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One Earth Farms slaughters 400 head of its “natural” brand beef, which is raised without additional hormones or antibiotics, and 80 head of organic beef at its Canadian Premium Meats plant in Lacombe, Alta.

Buying the federally inspected slaughter plant has allowed the company to have regularly scheduled slaughter days to ensure a steady quantity of meat for customers.

Beretta took over as head of the company shortly after One Earth Farms bought his Beretta Farms brand.

The company has since acquired a series of beef brands, including Heritage Angus.

Beretta said it hopes to scale up its organic line of beef products by focusing on grass-finished beef as a way to eliminate expensive grain in the feed.

One Earth Farms’ cattle are scattered across the Prairies and raised by farmers as a way of sharing costs and risks.

Beretta said consumers who want organically raised beef are willing to pay higher costs.

Contact mary.macarthur@producer.com

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