Officials from the federal and provincial governments, along with representatives of the Alberta Beef Producers met with local cattle producers at the Rimbey Community Centre last Thursday night to discuss the new Alberta Livestock and Meat Strategy, and by all indications, the locals are not very pleased with the upcoming proposed changes.
Speakers at the meeting included John Knapp, Alberta Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Wetaskiwin Member of Parliament Blaine Calkins and Greg Bowie of Ponoka who sits on the board of directors of the Alberta Beef Producers.
“The main topic of discussion was the Alberta Meat and Livestock strategy which the provincial government brought out on June 5 of this year,” Bowie said. “There’s a number of processes that the government wants to put into effect over the next few years to try to improve the competitiveness of the beef industry, so we’re expecting many questions and answers over the next little while.”
Either way, even though the government’s announcement of the proposed changes is barely six weeks old, Bowie said the telephones have been ringing off the hook at his office from concerned producers, and a lot of them are not very happy.
“I’m hearing lots from producers. Most of them just want more answers because they don’t understand the process,” Bowie said. “There’s a lot of producers that are upset with what is going on and there’s a small amount of producers that are in favour of what’s happening.”
Bowie said that despite the fact that both the document and the long-term objectives of it are very lengthy, the gist of the proposed changes comes down to the government’s ability to track and record every head of cattle in the province easily and more efficiently.
“The original document that came out was 20-some pages long and it encompasses probably about the next four or five years, so it’s fairly broad,” he said. “Some of the major things that the government wants to do is make age verification of all cattle in the province mandatory – that’s one of the first things that come into effect and that’ll happen next January.”
Bowie said age verification as it stands now is on a voluntary basis however the government wants it to become mandatory by January of 2009, and will also be seeking a number of other pieces of information on or after that date.
“There’s a number of other requirements including the stipulation that producers have to have their premises identified and in the longer term, weaning dates, vaccination protocols, and treatments, all that stuff will have to be recorded and sent in,” he said adding that grade information may also be required.
The catch however, is that the producers are going to be on the financial hook for all the changes, hence the plethora of calls to Bowie’s office.
“Yes, the majority of these costs will go back to the cow/calf producer and a lot of them aren’t too happy with it,” he said. “It’s certainly not 100 percent for or 100 per cent against, it’s split, but the larger portion seems to be against it from the calls I’ve been receiving.”
One of those representing producers who are in opposition to the proposed changes is Edwin Erickson who agreed with Bowie on the issue that many Alberta cattle producers are somewhat unhappy.
“The biggest feedback I’m getting from producers is they can’t see the benefit in it for themselves,” Erickson said. “They’re already in a very compromised situation and they can’t see the benefit as opposed to the hassle and the cost that is going to be on them. Furthermore, a lot of them still cannot understand why the Canadian Food Inspection Agency doesn’t just test all cattle for BSE and similar problems, at the expense of the government.”
He said most of the producers he’s talked to believe they are on the slippery slope to being forced to becoming ‘licensed’ under provincial government standards.
“The other thing that’s really getting to producers is the requirement of location verification,” Erickson said. “That seems the be a big issue because people are wondering if they’re on the road to being licensed to produce cattle.”
While he said he’s tried to get a straight answer out of the government regarding site verification, he added that all the information he received conflicted in one way or another, with other information he has received from the government.
For example, he wonders if site verification includes a case where a farmer moves a number of head from one area of his farm to another, or is it a matter of site verification being necessary only in cases of a change of ownership.
“Like so many other things with this government, we get these conflicting reports from various angles and nobody really seems to know what they’re talking about,” he said. “Whether that is just because they don’t know what they’re talking about or they’re afraid to put their finger right on what the actual plan is, it’s hard to say.”
According to Erickson, cash-strapped Alberta cattle producers were given a portion of a $150 million payout earlier with the promise of another $150 million, however the government has insisted that if producers do not get on board with the upcoming changes, they will not be paid, a point that he sees as a bit of bribery.
“It sure looks that way,” Erickson said. “When you have a bunch of people in jeopardy and you hand them some money and they grab it because they need it really bad because they’re nearly going under, and then you say, ‘I can give you some more, but here’s what you have to do’, it is a form of bribery. When you’re starving and somebody offers you a piece of bread, you’ll probably grab it.”