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Direction Of Government Programs Perplexes Cattlemen

“It could become a prerequisite for trade, as animal care has become. So do we take the lead, or leave it to the provinces?”

– CCA’S ROB MCNABB ON DEVELOPING A NATIONAL BIOSECURITY STANDARD

Whether it’s cattle price insurance, dis-a ster recovery or biosecurity, figuring out what direction government programs might take has proven a knotty challenge for delegates to the annual meeting of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA).

Alberta has launched a price insurance program for cattle and CCA is trying to decide whether it supports the concept on a national basis. A study done by the George Morris Centre for CCA suggests the program might have too many conditions and in the long run could be too costly to ensure widespread acceptance.

But that doesn’t mean the organization won’t follow its progress closely as it’s rolled out this summer as a pilot project, delegates decided.

CCA president Brad Wildeman said the association wants “to see if it works as intended and whether cattlemen could afford its premiums.”

There were also questions from delegates about whether the program would give Alberta feedlot operators an advantage when it comes to sourcing animals for their lots.

PRODUCTION INSURANCE

Of more benefit for many cattlemen would be a workable and affordable production insurance program, he said. Ottawa supports the concept but not all the provinces are onside. The industry is also waiting the startup of Growing Forward – which is supposed to happen April 1 – to see what assistance that agricultural policy framework will provide the cattle industry.

Federal officials at the conference cautioned that details of the program are still being discussed with the provinces.

Another unknown for cattlemen is whether to wait for governments to push farmers into establishing biosecurity programs on their operations or to develop their own version of protecting their farmers from external disease threats.

Rob McNabb of the CCA said biosecurity will likely be part of the animal health strategy that should emerge with Growing Forward.

“Although we’re getting frustrated by the delays in announcing any details, it’s likely the federal government will leave it to the provinces to implement,” he said. It’s unclear whether Ottawa will ensure there are nat ional standards and whether all provinces are equally supportive of a biosecurity program.

McNabb recommended cattlemen decide soon whether to develop a verifiable national biosecurity standard or wait and comment on whatever the provinces come up with.

“We should see it as a front-line defence. In time it will probably become a requirement for eligibility to government programs. It could become a prerequisite for trade, as animal care has become. So do we take the lead, or leave it to the provinces?”

Cattlemen shouldn’t have much difficulty with the concept because much of it is already included in the industry’s on-farm food safety program. “That’s where it would start. It’s best seen as a disease prevention.” As well, it would have to apply to sale barns and transport trucks to be completely effective, McNabb said.

The meeting also agreed that the flooding that struck cattlemen in Manitoba’s Interlake district last year highlighted the shortcomings in the AgriRecovery program.

“FASTER ANSWERS”

Martin Unrau of the Manitoba Cattle Producers Association said members had to lobby to get compensation under the program, when it should have responded automatically to the disaster. “We hope that in the future we can (get) faster answers than we did last year. The program is supposed to be there for situations like we faced.”

While compensation has been announced by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, “we shouldn’t have to negotiate for it,” he said.

Dennis Laycraft, the CCA’s executive director, said the Manitoba situation shows the need for a better program to deal with a natural disaster. “The question we face is how to get quicker action.”

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