Cattle industry must improve even as it booms

What a great time to have cattle to sell. Record smashing prices continue to appear, and even the most pessimistic producers are smiling.

With the strong market providing continued profits and market signals continuing to fuel optimism, I wonder how the optimism will be translated into action?

Will we forget the lessons learned in the last several years, or can we make ourselves stronger and in turn make the Canadian cattle and beef production system more resilient in preparation for future challenges?

As an individual within the collection of individuals that is the Canadian cattle and beef production system, I need to stay focused on the fundamentals of production, which hopefully allow me profit in high and low markets.

This concept was well described in several recent articles highlighting the impending re-opening of the beef packing plant near Balzac, Alta.

A recent Beef Illustrated profile on Harmony Beef highlighted the importance of recognizing the market opportunities while keeping an eye on the costs of expanding to supply those markets.

The plant appears to have an exciting future ahead, not only because of the plant’s innovative design and potential to provide product into lucrative markets but also because chief executive officer Rich Vesta appears to have a keen eye for operational efficiency.  This combination will hopefully yield profits and strengthen Canada’s long-term ability to produce premium beef.

The same combination of recognizing market opportunity while staying focused on production costs is fundamental for success of all cattle and beef producers.

Some of the value of the current market may not be fully realized if we don’t strive to improve our ability to efficiently produce cattle.

Our individual sustainability will be challenged when lower market prices cycle back. Now is the time to objectively evaluate opportunities to reduce Canadian producer vulnerability, even while in the glow of a hot market.

Such an initiative has recently been launched in the form of the Canadian Beef Industry Sustainability Assessment. It is being conducted under the direction of the newly minted Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.

The CRSB document outlines the approach as “a fundamental step in ensuring our domestic and international consumers have confidence in the Canadian beef brand and that Canada remains a competitive global leader in sustainable beef production.”

The desire for continuous improvement within cattle and beef production models is a key assumption on which the assessment will be based. I, for one, am excited to see the results of the assessment.

It will be important for all producers to review the assessment and understand the implications be-cause I suspect the opportunity to craft research and policy for a stronger future will follow.

Make sure the cattle organization that represents your interests communicates the information from this assessment, and be ready to provide your feedback.

Let’s make the most of these exciting times.

Ross Macdonald, M.Sc., P.Ag., ranches in southern Saskatchewan.

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