Canadian Angus Association CEO Rob Smith wants his organization to take a larger role in verifying responsible management.
“We’re going to take a look at the process for Verified Beef Production Plus and we’re going to take a look at the forms and the administrative requirements of that and we’re going to create a Canadian Angus approach to it,” he said.
They’ll be sharing the findings with association members and bull buyers, looking to increase the number of Canadian Angus producers covered by the approach, which documents both sustainability and humane animal care.
“I think it’s our responsibility to do that,” Smith said. “Canadian Angus absolutely is an industry leader and we take that responsibility very seriously, so I think that there’s absolutely some steps that we can take to make that better for our very, very busy and very engaged cattle producers who don’t have enough hours in the day.”
Verified Beef Production (VBP) was originally an industry-sponsored audit program focused on food security. The voluntary program expanded its mandate last year, adding sustainability, biosecurity and animal welfare. Existing members are being transitioned to the renamed Verified Beef Production Plus.
Registered farmers are trained through workshops, online education and call-in conferences through the program. Members are expected to implement those concepts on farm and are audited before certification is granted. The audit requires six months of records for cow-calf producers and three months of records for feedlots. A cattle chute, side handling and pen assessment are also required for feedlots.
“VBP is designed to be the tool that gives the rest of the industry the ability to say, ‘This is how we raise our cattle and we know that because we checked,’” Virgil Lowe, VBP Plus business manager, told the Manitoba Co-operator in early June.
A combined 1,500 producers are registered with the original and expanded program, according to VBP Plus.
Smith says there is “not enough” communication between management verification programs and the Canadian Angus Association’s own genetics certification.
The idea was echoed by membership during the June 10 Canadian Angus Association annual general meeting.
Darren Ippolito of Kisbey, Sask., questioned whether the association’s green ear tag program could be linked with sustainability verification.
Cattle with at least 50 per cent Angus genetics may be marked with the green tags. On June 10, Smith told membership he hopes to see the tag program reach one million tags sold annually, given current herd growth.
“It started to make me think about, how can we gather up a few more people?” Ippolito said. “When we try, as a member, to sell (tags) to our commercial customers, we get resistance at all sorts of different levels — one being price, availability, convenience, all of these things.”
Ippolito argued that linking sustainability to the tags would add value, given growing industry efforts on public trust, and might make tags more attractive to producers.
While the association markets the tags as the largest branded beef tagging system in the world, only a small percentage of eligible calves are tagged each year. A recent study by CanFax on behalf of the association found that 64 to 67 per cent of Canada’s 2016 cow herd was at least half Angus.
Conversely, the association sold 278,000 tags in 2016, the highest since 2012, but still a small portion of the millions of eligible cattle, according to the association.
Smith said convenience has been a major challenge to growing the program as producers must be audited before tags are delivered. Tags are usually distributed within 24 to 48 hours of request.
“We’re taking a look at distribution and seeing if there isn’t some means for perhaps broadening our distribution capabilities to allow for people to have some central points that they may be able to access if they decide on a Friday night that on Saturday morning they’re going to tag calves. We may be able to help them better than we can right now,” Smith said.
The association will also be looking at how it markets to members, he added.
“It isn’t just based on having an Angus sire, but it’s based on having a predominantly Angus cow herd,” he said. “We recognize the value that cattlemen across the country find in having a virtually straight Angus cow herd and running it with exotic-breed bulls. Those still qualify for our tag program.”
David Sibbald, outgoing association president, said that Ippolito’s motion would be presented to the board at its next meeting.