B.C. cattle producers promised provincial funds for marketing

WILLIAMS LAKE, B.C. – The British Columbia government has committed $2 million to ranchers for future market development and research projects.Agriculture minister Steve Thomson made the funding promise at the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association annual meeting at Williams Lake, B.C., May 28-29. It is part of a larger package of promises stemming from a ranching task force set up a year ago by premier Gordon Campbell to revitalize a faltering sector.Combined with potential federal dollars, $5 million could be available to invest in domestic and international market programs along with research that benefits B.C. producers.“We didn’t want to say exactly how it will be targeted. The work of the ranching task force will be in co-operation with the industry to determine how to use those resources most strategically,” Thomson said.The task force consisted of representatives from seven government ministries and agencies, ranchers and First Nations groups. The government has accepted 36 of their 38 recommendations, with much of the change coming in policy and regulations.“The word has gone out to the different ministries to start work on them but there are different time lines. Some are a work in progress and some we’ll be able to do faster than others,” he said.Thomson released a four point plan promising regulatory and policy change within government, raising the profile of B.C. ranching, providing more money for marketing, research and continuing the beef cattle industry development fund indefinitely.The $9.3 million trust fund was to end in June 2014. It started 16 years ago and has funded more than $10 million worth of industry projects.The producers had not seen the full government response to the task force report, but were encouraged.“It was a really nice surprise to hear about the industry development fund,” said Roland Baumann, who co-chairs the task force with MLA Terry White.“It sometimes takes a while for things to happen. We were afraid in times of financial constraints, if we were to push for the fund to be rolled over to industry, the treasury board would see a fund of almost $10 million and grab it. It was a brave move from the minister,” said Baumann, who is past-president of the BCCA.Some of the regulatory changes affect all of agriculture.The harmonized provincial and goods and services tax is supposed to save agriculture $20 million because tax paid on all farm inputs will be refundable. The government is also continuing a fencing program for crown range land, promises more security for water and plans to lengthen grazing lease tenures.Producers told the minister they appreciate the gestures but cited widespread problems.“I have a concern in that I hope all of these projects will turn into something that will be helpful,” said Hellen Bayliff of Redstone. She told Thomson and range and forestry minister Pat Bell that there appears to be no strategic vision within the government for agriculture and for ranchers specifically.She and others were disappointed many government extension people who implemented ranchland projects in local areas were laid off following recent budget cuts. Bell said about 10 percent of his department’s staff were let go and more cuts will be announced soon.“We would like a commitment from you to help keep our agricultural experts in our local offices,” Bayliff said.Duncan Barnett of the Caribou region said the loss of extension staff has had a large impact on ranchers.“Most ranchers do not have the capacity to deal with government bureaucracy,” he said.Throughout the convention, ranchers shared the woes of poor markets, drought, an aging demographic and skepticism over government’s commitment to help. More ranchers are cashing in and dispersing herds.There are 4,000 ranchers in the province and as of Jan. 1, 2010, Statistics Canada reported 525,000 head .The B.C. cow herd experienced the largest decline in the country. It dropped to 197,000 compared to the previous year when there were 212,000 beef cows. The cow herd bulged in 2005 to 305,000 due to poor cow markets and continuing BSE embargoes on animals older than 30 months.

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