Check-off vote disappoints leaders

Heads of Alberta’s two main beef groups wish mandatory levy was approved, but call new relationships a silver lining

The leaders of Alberta’s two largest beef organizations have decided it is time to build positive relationships for the betterment of the industry.

A decision on whether to keep a $2 checkoff refundable upon request was narrowly approved in a producer vote this fall. Of the more than 18,000 eligible producers who had six weeks to vote at various venues, only 1,874 cast a ballot. In the end, just 54 votes made the difference on whether to keep the status quo or make the levy a mandatory, non-refundable charge to support industry initiatives.

“I was disappointed the votes didn’t go in favour of a mandatory checkoff. Investing in our industry is really going to help us drive our industry forward. But it is a democracy,” said Ryan Kasko, chair of the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association.

There is a silver lining, said Kasko.

“I think the important thing through this process is the Alberta Beef Producers and Alberta Cattle Feeders developed some good relations and we recognize the value in our organizations working together and we hope to continue that into 2019 and bring other cattle industry groups in with us and make a plan to build on the good things we need to do,” he said.

Charlie Christie, chair of Alberta Beef Producers, which collects and administers the checkoff, agreed.

“We are going to continue the momentum we have built with the cattle feeders, “he said.

“We see the value in the collaboration almost as much as the money. The money would have been hugely beneficial for the industry,” he said.

There will be changes coming because of a funding shortfall so future budgets will be leaner. The levy is collected every time an animal is sold, and as the cow herd continues to shrink in size, there will be less money.

“We do some very good work here and I am proud of it but now we have to pick and choose what we can do and prioritize,” said Christie during the ABP annual meeting in Calgary Dec. 3-5.

There is also a recognition that a new generation of ranchers is taking over.

More young producers are working off the farm and raising young families and they are distracted. Christie wants to develop a fast-moving social media communications platform to talk with younger producers to deliver education and information they can use on their own operations.

He wants to set goals to reduce the refunds and explain to all producers what the checkoff is and that the money is used to promote beef, healthy eating and support research.

“We work at home for a living and we work here for the future,” he said.

In 2018, more than $11 million in revenue was collected but to cover possible refunds of more than $2 million per year and payments to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, the operating budget is slightly more than $5 million.

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