The Canadian beef industry has new benchmarks to strive for in the next decade.
The organizations involved in Canada’s National Beef Strategy — the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Canada Beef Breeds Council, Beef Cattle Research Council, Canada Beef, The National Cattle Feeders’ Association, Canadian Meat Council and Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef — have announced a new set of industry goals for 2030.
Why it matters: The new 10-year goals have been touted as Phase 2 of the 2020-24 National Beef Strategy.
Goals have been announced for three areas so far — greenhouse gas and carbon sequestration; animal health and welfare and land use and biodiversity — with another four to come next year.
“It was really iterative, starting with looking at the literature of what our current benchmarks in Canada were and what the data we had available to us was,” said Brenna Grant, Canfax manager and one of those presenting the goals at their launch Sept. 16.
“We were really looking at Canadian research before going out and interviewing people with expertise in individual areas, whether it was researchers, veterinarians or producers.”
Among the goals, industry groups hope to, “safeguard the existing 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon stored on lands managed with beef cattle,” and half the food waste between the secondary processor and consumer.
On top of that, the industry would see an additional 3.4 million tonnes of carbon sequestered every year through grazing management and a focus on soil health. That number reflects a scenario where all tame pasture and hay acres sequester carbon at half of the 70-year historical rate, the team developing the goals has said.
Strategy groups eventually hope to add carbon sequestration to the National Inventory Report, submitted by the federal government to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change every year. The groups have tapped environmental consultants Viresco Solutions for a road map towards quantifying soil organic change on pasture and grassland.
The goals would also see the industry’s greenhouse gas emission intensity drop by 33 per cent, a number based around “breakthrough scenario” models.
“We looked at what our long-term performance was in a number of areas and said, ‘What if we just continued to do what we have historically?’” Grant said. “And then we talked about some major breakthroughs — major breakthroughs in terms of technology and innovation or major breakthroughs in terms of adoption rates for certain practices.”
Goals targeted to maintain native grassland and encouraging ecosystems on grazing land will help protect those carbon gains, fact sheets put out by the groups have also said.
The 2016 census of agriculture noted a 4.4 per cent decline of tame and native pastures from 2011 to 2016 as more producers opted for annual crops.
“We knew that we needed a market mechanism in order to achieve this,” Grant said. “So yes, focusing on economic viability of producers, but also by supporting programs that incentivize conservation and working with other crop groups across Canada to make sure that this happens.”
On animal health, the industry hopes to see 92 per cent reproductive efficiency in Canada’s cattle herds (up from 85 per cent reported in 2018). The 2030 goals would also refocus breeding on traits that support animal health such as calving ease and polled genes, encourage management strategies around things like pain relief, and create a national monitoring system to track practices. Goals around antimicrobial resistance would clarify and communicate best practices.
Many of those animal health goals also tie back to goals on carbon, according to Dennis Laycraft, executive vice-president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association. Laycraft linked low greenhouse footprint with genetics, management and, “real, key indicators on efficiency.”
At the farm gate
For the average producer, implementing the industry’s goals will be mostly about increasing that efficiency in each operation, Laycraft said.
“Some of it’s extension,” he said. “How do we share best practices?… The second part of it is obviously working with our industry partners. That’s the great thing about the National Beef Strategy. We effectively have everyone together, so there’s a stronger information loop through this system.”
Laycraft also pointed to Canada’s sustainable beef value chain, structured around the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef framework. That program offers producers a per-head payment for moving cattle through the chain of custody.
There is no “easy way of communicating with all producers or many producers,” he noted, pointing to the wealth of organizations, grazing clubs and provincial industry groups across the Canadian beef landscape.
Laycraft used the example of feed additive research that might lower greenhouse gas emissions when added to cattle rations. Organizations like the Beef Cattle Research Council do that type of work, he noted, but the challenge then becomes conveying that information most effectively to the producer.
“The main sort of platform through this is really focusing on what tools that we can provide to the industry that helps them manage this, makes operations more efficient,” he said.
According to documents on the strategy’s website, some of those tools include increased vaccination, the adoption of different pasture management and low-stress handling, increased extension, encouraging feed plans, body condition scoring, and feed testing, pursuing more research on pasture management, and more extension and education, among others.
Some of those tools might come with some reluctance at the farm gate, given additional cost and tight profit margins, Laycraft acknowledged.
“At the end of the day, the main reason for vaccinating or for all of these practices should be to improve the efficiency and health of your herd and, by doing that, it should improve returns back… We’re looking, with all of these things, trying to create the win-win environment,” he said.
“They’re ambitious goals,” Laycraft later admitted, “but our producer network that we worked with when we set this up really encouraged us to follow ambitious goals. I think Canada will be one of the world leaders and, at the same time, it is our goal to make sure whenever we do this we actually make our industry stronger in the process.”
The organizations expect to launch 2030 goals on water; beef quality and food safety; human health and safety and technology next year.