Beef farmers fear a futile future as it faces tougher government regulations and unknown economy and trade opportunities.
The future of the family farm is a vital issue for the industry, says Roland Cailliau of Valleyview, vice-chair of Alberta Beef Producers.
“Probably the elephant in the room is the whole topic of succession,” Cailliau says.
“Who will take over our operations, can we attract the younger generation?”
“Will the governments help or hinder us in this process?”
Tax changes proposed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and increased regulations for the agricultural sector proposed by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley won’t help, he says.
“All small business seems to be easy prey for government ideology,” Cailliau says.
“Between government ideology and consumer trends based on false science or maybe no science, we are at a crossroad.”
He wonders how the sector can or will survive.
“Who wants to get into the business of agricultural production based on iffy profitability, increased regulation, astronomical entry costs and then we can throw in weather for good measure?” Cailliau says.
“As an industry, can we agree on the answers, and if we do, can we convince the various levels of government to support us in our efforts?”
More support for the industry is also needed, he says.
“I think in a nation that has some of the most inexpensive, wholesome and safest food in the world, we need to reassess the portion of the grocery dollar that the producer is receiving,” Cailliau says.
“It seems that consumers are asking for more with a lower price tag.”
Confidence of consumers is another vital key to sustain the beef industry.
“Will our consumers pay us for all of the attributes they want our products to come with?” Cailliau says.
“Will retailers be willing to pass on to producers what consumers are willing to pay for those attributes?”
Despite that picture of gloom, the industry remains somewhat profitable with trade with the U.S.
“Even though the Canadian economy, and specifically the Alberta economy, has been hit hard by lack of jobs, we are still selling beef at a reasonably good volume,” Cailliau says.
“The low Canadian dollar versus the US dollar has helped all of our agricultural product exports.”
International trade is expected to boost beef.
Farmers are happy to see the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) under the Canadian-European Union implemented in September, he says.
But it will be slow going.
“Until all the technical barriers are dealt with, we in the beef industry won’t see much greater trade occurring,” Cailliau says.
The TransPacific Partnership (TPP) has seen the US pull out and will probably be resurrected as the TPP II, he suggests.
“We are looking for a free-trade deal with China at the present time to help offset the damage done by the USA-China deal,” Cailliau says.
He adds that producers need to talk about increasing cow numbers, or at the very least stop the downward slide.