ABP calls for funding changes

Alberta Beef Producers | Group wants return of non-refundable checkoff

Alberta Beef Producers want to reinstate the non-refundable $3 checkoff.

The organization collects $3 per head sold in the province and sets aside $1 for Canada Beef Inc. and the Beef Cattle Research Council. That portion is not refunded.

Provincial legislation passed two years ago requires that all levies collected on agriculture products be refundable upon request.

ABP consequently saw its once hefty budget reduced to $5 million per year.

Delegates passed a resolution to return to a non-refundable levy during the ABP Dec. 3-5 annual meeting in Calgary.

“We believe this needs to go to a vote to the producers. It needs to be put into their hands,” ABP chair Doug Sawyer said in an interview.

“We are certainly hearing from producers more and more that they want it back. We’ll have to look at the right time.”

He said producers should see the money as an investment in beef marketing programs, promotions, education, research and trade advocacy through the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

The financial pinch has been noticeable.

ABP collected about $10 million last year and more than $2 million was rebated to more than 600 producers. Most of the refunds went to a few large feedlots.

“We need to have some money going forward that we know is there, if we want to continue these research projects at a reasonable level,” said Greg Bowie of Ponoka, newly elected vice-chair.

Some producers at the meeting suggested the refundable portion should be left alone so the industry can continue to co-operate with the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association and Western Stock Growers Association, which want choice.

They also argued that the refundable checkoff has made ABP more efficient and cost-conscious.

However, others said secure funding is needed for a united industry.

“This is a debate we need to have. There has been pain, but there have been some gains,” said Cecilie Fleming of Granum.

Others argued the money is needed to properly represent producers at the provincial and national levels.

“We cannot represent the producers if we do not have the funding. We cannot have all the committees and all the councils we have if we do not have the funding,” said Gordon Graves of Iron River.

“It is imperative for the survival of this industry that we have a united, democratic voice and this is the organization.”

Lorrie Jespersen, who represents Alberta Milk, said the change has left some organizations cash strapped, and delegates end up paying out of their own pockets to support the association.

“It was a ploy by the government of the day to divide and conquer so they could control agriculture in the way they want. It is not giving agriculture the true voice that it needs,” he said.

Alberta is Canada’s largest beef producing province, and has had a strong voice on the national scene. It also paid a large share of the bills, said Rob Somerville of Endiang.

“In past years, when we had a countervail, it was ABP that carried the ball financially for the rest of the country,” he said.

“If we had to do that again, I think we would be challenged. We need secure funding and a non-refundable checkoff so we can defend our industry against trade challenges and to maintain our access to foreign markets.”

ABP’s financial report said the last anti-dumping investigation in which the Canadian cattle industry was involved cost $4.5 million. Alberta contributed half the money.

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