A&W’s donation of $5 million to the University of Saskatchewan’s Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence is a good long-term investment for the Canadian beef industry, said academic and industry representatives.
“The research that’s going to happen there will solve the challenges of today and tomorrow for producers for a long time to come,” said Ryder Lee, chief executive officer of the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association, during the announcement at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Agriculture and Bioresources Dec. 1.
“The theme that I keep going back to is we want people selling beef and Canadian beef preferably.… I’m happy when they’re focusing on beef especially.”
The new and innovative research facility being built near Clavet, Sask., is on track to open its doors and start accepting cattle in March.
It will accommodate about 2,000 head over the course of the year on two facilities on a land base of 1,700 acres.
The centre will use $3 million of the donation to build the Livestock and Food Building. Another $1 million will create a community outreach and engagement program, while the other $1 million will establish a visiting fellowship in One Health research.
Other capital contributions include $10 million from the federal and Saskatchewan governments, $4.47 million from Western Economic Diversification Canada, $10 million from the U of S and $1 million from the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association.
Research and teaching are front and centre for the new building. It will also be a hub for community outreach programs that offer presentations and seminars for industry and consumers.
“We think it’s a terrific new day for A&W and for Canadian beef and we’re excited to look at the future, said Susan Senecal, chief operating officer at A&W Canada.
“We’re one of the top 10 beef buyers in Canada for restaurant businesses and we want to continuously grow that partnership and that relationship as well as the amount of beef that we’re able to buy here.… We just want to see our relationship with Canadian ranchers grow and develop and we’re excited to be part of this research facility that will help enable that.”
Mary Buhr, dean of the university’s agriculture college, said the research centre donation will help alleviate frustration and skepticism among cattle producers who are critical of A&W’s controversial hormone-free beef campaign.
“The university is the place where we totally work with the evidence, the facts and the tested results, and we’ll be able to communicate whatever reality is to the consumers once we’ve done the work,” she said.
“This is literally the kind of relationship that will enable dialogue because we’re going to have everybody sitting around the table able to talk to each other.”
However, Buhr said the decision to pair with the restaurant giant as well as others did not come easy and involved some “hard conversations.”
“Everybody’s had to recognize — A&W, all of our producer organizations — we’re all here for better beef,” she said.
“What we want to do is produce higher quality food with fewer inputs and less environmental impact.”
Buhr said having that one goal was key to bringing stakeholders together.
“That’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to get all the producer groups and the forage groups and the veterinarians and the agros all at the same table because we’re all working towards that holistic answer,” she said.
“And help from the food consuming companies and those who are actually talking to consumers are at our table and critically important.”