The Beef Farmers of Ontario annual meeting in Toronto conjures up images of rough and tumble guys in jeans wearing cowboy hats and enjoying many drinks.
That may have been the case years ago but today’s beef representatives are a very disciplined bunch.
The 400 or so attending the 55th annual meeting held at the International Plaza Hotel in Toronto on Feb. 21-23 could well be mistaken for members of the Conservative Party, adhering to a dress code of blue or light colours. Only the Huron County delegates stood out, sporting their dark red shirts. Two men wore small hats; a dozen fellows wore baseball caps at the daytime meetings. No T-shirts.
No hats or caps at the elegant evening banquet where we were served thick slabs of rare or medium-cooked corn-fed beef. Most looked dressed for church.
2016 was a very challenging year for Ontario beef farmers. We learned that there were huge losses in the backgrounding (cow-calf) and finishing sector. The cow herd in Ontario is down 31 per cent in 10 years. This year’s cattle prices are expected to be 8 per cent to 10 per cent lower than in 2016. The only growth in the industry is exporting to developing nations. Of the 250 surveyed delegates, 90 per cent said they were planning to increase production. The delegates are very positive-minded farmers and many are leaders in their counties.
There were a number of information sessions on the first evening of the convention. I checked the meeting rooms to see what attracted beef producers. There was very little interest in Beef Cattle Research Council Update. It drew 25 people. Public Trust in Food with Crystal Mackay on consumer attitudes toward beef farming and the local food system drew 34 people.
Cow-Calf Versus Cash Crop: Who Wins? That was the big winner with 117 attending, 19 of them wearing baseball caps. I had to stand at the back, crammed in with 32 other folks. It’s hard to take notes standing but here’s what I learned: The 2015 case study and enterprise analysis compared grazing cows and cash crop farming. The study looked at the profits of 15 intensively managed pasture-based cow-calf operations to benchmark data from grain and oilseed sector over a 10-year period. Corn was tops some years. Soybeans and cow-calf also had favourable years.
Delegates voted on 26 resolutions from the different counties with little discussion from the floor. One resolution was withdrawn. Two were defeated.
A new director, representing the cow-calf sector, was elected to the board.
Craig McLaughlin will serve a three-year term. The 54-year-old farmer resides in the Whitewater Region of Renfrew County where he operates a cow-calf and backgrounding operation. McLaughlin replaces Gerald Rollins, also of Renfrew County, who completed the maximum of three terms on the board.
Garnet Toms, of Peterborough, was re-elected for a three-year term representing Eastern Ontario.
Guest speakers included Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Jeff Leal, who said he is very concerned about what is going on south of the border and has traveled to many of the major states to ensure that COOL (Country-of-Origin Labelling) doesn’t reveal its ugly head. He added that he is proud of his government doubling the feeder loan program.
Dalhousie University professor of food policy Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, told the audience that Galen Weston told him recently: “Organics have peaked. Now it’s gluten-free foods. What’s next?”
He also spoke of the difference between Canada and China. Canada’s nutritional food guide is a suggestion. In China, the food guide is a policy.
Charlebois also had a prediction for 2017. Canada becomes 150 years old this year and people will want to go back to their roots and eat beef.
Ann Wasko, of Market Analyst Gateway Livestock, said after BSE Canadian cattlemen used profits to pay off debt. U.S. producers used record profits to expand their herds and have expanded by 2-million head since 2014. Canada’s beef numbers are flat: Seven years of flat cow numbers.
The town of Kapuskasing sponsored one hot lunch. The northern clay belt that includes Cochrane and Hearst is encouraging beef farmers to move north. Beef Farmers of Ontario wants 100,000 beef cows up there. There are 60-million acres available for lease or purchase.
Maynard van der Galien is a Renfrew-area farmer and agricultural writer.