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Beef checkoff increase delayed but still in the works

CALGARY — Small delays and snags are slowing the process of increasing the Canadian Beef Cattle Checkoff in cattle-producing provinces.

Doug Sawyer, chair of the check-off division committee for the agency, said cattle groups in eight of nine provinces have agreed to increase the national check-off to $2.50 per head but the various steps to implement that are slow in coming.

“It looks like the bulk of that increase is going to come much later than we thought, likely into 2018, some of it maybe even later in 2018,” Sawyer told those at the CBCC annual meeting Aug. 15.

The increase has been fully implemented only in Nova Scotia, which increased its checkoff to $2.50 per head as of Jan. 1. Other provinces are in various stages of approval for the increase, but Ontario producers are still discussing a potential increase and if approved, it would still have to go through provincial government channels.

“I’m very hopeful,” Sawyer said in a later interview. “I think as we look at the value that we get as producers, that you’ve got to invest in your marketing, in your research, in your entire industry and I think producers understand that.”

He said Manitoba was ready to proceed with the increase but then a meeting of the provincial marketing council was cancelled and the change could not be dealt with. In British Columbia, producers and the government have been understandably distracted by widespread forest fires this summer.

Delays in full implementation of an increase are forcing an even more careful approach to budgeting in 2017-18.

Once a checkoff increase is finalized across the country, Sawyer said it will dramatically increase the cattle industry’s ability to fund research, market development and promotion.

“We’ve got the opportunity to enter into a new (federal research) cluster that we have to have producer dollars to back, and if we don’t have enough producer dollars there, we’re going to leave money on the table that we can’t utilize,” he said.

“The value we’re getting from programs like that and the value we’re getting from matching programs on the marketing side… all producers across Canada have said we’ve got a real need for proper issues management.”

As an example of issues management, Sawyer referenced recent proposed changes to the Canada Food Guide that recommend lower amounts of red meat. The agency has responded and objected to the new recommendations.

“We’re really seeing the benefit of a co-ordinated effort, and that’s what really issues management is.”

Sawyer said producers often ask what percentage of their checkoff goes to administration.

“It’s vitally important to me that we don’t set a percentage on that,” he told the gathering. The preferred method is to examine priorities and make them line items in the budget. From that, a percentage of the total can be calculated.

“The one thing I don’t want to do is start empire building and saying, ‘well, we’ve got five percent or 10 percent. How do we spend it?’ That’s backwards.”

The CBCC collected $7.34 million in 2016-17, according to the annual report.

“Of that total, 64 percent was directed towards market development and promotion, 18 percent to research, 19 percent was retained by the provincial cattle organizations. Approximately $347,000 was retained by the agency for administering the checkoff. This amount does not include the in-kind operations and administrative services provided by Canada Beef due to a shared office and shared staff roles,” said the report.

The agency also receives any import levies on beef and beef products brought into Canada. In 2016-17, that amounted to more than $900,000 and is used to promote the culinary and nutritional value of beef.

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