Eastern Cargill plant tapping into sustainable beef

Cargill’s Guelph plant had just completed its standard certification when COVID-19 hit

Cargill says it’s on its way to opening up Eastern Canada for its certified sustainable beef supply chain.

The company says its Guelph processing plant had just been certified according to sustainability standards, as set down by the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, when the COVID-19 pandemic gained steam.

“It was end of February, end of March when that was finalized,” Emily Murray, Cargill’s general manager of beef sales to McDonald’s, said. “So it was truly just before the pandemic.”

Why it matters: Eastern Canada is a big market for Manitoba beef cattle. Now, for the first time, some of those cattle might be earning the producer an extra return for sustainability.

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Cargill’s High River location in Alberta, which was forced to temporarily close due to COVID-19 earlier this year, was previously the company’s only outlet for the certified value chain.

The shutdown, along with processing slowdowns or shutdowns at other Alberta beef plants, created a downslide in the general beef market, as animals backed up to the farm gate.

Processing in their sustainable value chain “flexed” with the industry in general at that time, Murray said.

Manitobans might have particular interest in the news, given the number of live cattle the province ships into Eastern Canada rather than making the trek to Alberta.

The Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association, one of the organizations championing sustainable beef practices and regenerative agriculture, welcomed the news.

“I believe that Cargill being certified in Guelph is a good program for the Verified Beef Production Plus,” chair Larry Wegner said. “It will make it so that there is another option to get some returns back to the producers.”

Murray says the company is, “in conversations with our eastern supply chain now, coming into Guelph, to work with feedlots in that area, producers’ organizations, VBP+ representation, to see how we can grow the supply chain in the east as well, and that also is going to flip the switch for several of our customers that are very eastern-focused on what they’re able to do.”

Nuts and bolts

Last year, Cargill announced that it would be expand- ing its sustainable beef value chain pilot into a standing program. The program creates a segregated value chain for animals raised and processed according CRSB standards. Farms, feedlots and processors must all pass an audit through either Verified Beef Production Plus or Where Food Comes From Inc. to be eligible for the program. Beef is then earmarked for the program’s end-use partners, such as McDonalds and Harvey’s.

Producers then earn a per-head payment, assuming they are moved only to other certified sites. As of the end of 2018, those payments came out to $18.48 per head and are determined by number of cattle moved through the system quarter to quarter.

McDonald’s became the first end-user to source meat from the supply chain in 2018. The restaurant promised that 30 per cent of the beef in its Angus burger line will come from CRSB certified farms.

Harvey’s later echoed that promise, and has committed to sourcing at least 30 per cent of the beef going into its Original Burger from CRSB certified farms.

Murray says it is too early to tell how many cattle from the sustainable value chain will be moving through the Guelph location, given the impact of the pandemic.

“We really weren’t able to spend last quarter as we had planned focusing on that supply chain,” she said.

Cargill says it will be working with partner organizations in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba in the near future to help flesh out those details.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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