Alberta Beef Producers is facing tough decisions about its future as an advocate for ranchers and farmers because of checkoff refunds.
The organization refunds almost half the check-off dollars collected from producers.
“It’s having a tremendous effect on us,” said chair Melanie Wowk. If the situation continues to worsen, “we’re going to have to do a lot more cuts and we’ll have to start looking at making more major cuts within the organization, so we’re really hoping to try and turn this refund rate around.”
Cattle producers across much of Alberta were hit by heat waves and drought this summer. Wowk said lobbying of the federal and provincial governments by ABP was essential to producers getting help under initiatives such as AgriRecovery.
“You need a plan; you need to show (government officials) exactly why that money is needed, where it’s going to be used.”
ABP advocates on behalf of about 18,000 producers, said Wowk. “How, without an organization to do that for you, where would you even start?”
Most small cow-calf producers support the checkoffs, she said, adding the refunds are mostly requested by a relatively low number of large producers.
“If they’re marketing 150,000 head of cattle a year, they’re getting a cheque for $300,000 — that’s a significant amount of income that they’re getting back.”
Wowk emphasized she doesn’t want to single out operations, such as feedlots, as the root cause of ABP’s problems. “I just want people to realize at the end of the day that the majority of our producers do support us.”
She outlined the situation at a recent semi-annual meeting held online by ABP that was attended by fewer than 50 people.
During an interview, Wowk said a checkoff of $4.50 per head must be set aside by beef producers from the sale of cattle, out of which they must pay a mandatory national levy of $2.50 to support things such as the Beef Cattle Research Council. However, producers can apply twice per year for refunds of all or part of the remaining portion of the checkoffs. It consists of an ABP service charge of $2 per head, which is relied on by the organization to help fund its operations, said Wowk.
As a result, 965 refunds were issued totalling about $3 million, which means roughly 46 percent of the total service charges were refunded. Producers voted to retain the ability to ask for refunds as part of a plebiscite in 2018 that Wowk said only involved a turnout of about 1,800 members.
“I don’t know if it’s taking (ABP) for granted, or if it’s, like I said, if things are running along smoothly, it’s not at the top of people’s minds. And things just kind of keep chugging along until something like this summer happens, or BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), or God forbid some other type of foreign animal disease comes in here and our borders are shut.”
ABP must also pay 53 cents per head to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.
“We even had on our refund form the ability for people to keep 53 cents of their $2 in so that will cover our CCA expenditures, but there hasn’t been much uptake on that, either.”
It means ABP has been forced to make “significant adjustments” to its communications, marketing and education initiatives, said ABP’s annual report for 2021. It also cancelled its yearly funding of $50,000 to the Simpson Centre for Agricultural and Food Innovation and Public Education at the University of Calgary.
Meanwhile, funding to Alberta Farm Animal Care, AgSafe Alberta, and Cows and Fish has been cut by 50 percent. Wowk said “at the end of the day, like my husband has always said, ‘you’ve got to spend money to make money,’ and we just we really need to have the producers of Alberta step up and put some money back into their business.”