It’s time for the next generation of beef producers to speak up.
Manitoba Beef Producers, which has been engaged in its annual membership meeting circuit this fall, has handed them the microphone at a series of three emerging beef leaders’ forums, as a joint project with the Manitoba 4-H Council.
Brian Lemon, MBP general manager, says his organization hoped to entice more youth engagement by providing a platform and peer group for interested young people to discuss their own industry issues.
Forums led into a regular MBP district meeting. Forum locations were chosen for their proximity to 4-H programs, a nod to the fact that MBP expected most youth members to be drawn from the 4-H roster. The forums were not, however, exclusive to 4-H.
Organizers invited all interested local teenagers from 12-18 years old to attend.
“We really wanted to hear their thoughts on how we could do a better job building public trust, especially from their perspective as to the things that they see — the challenges we face as well as what the beef industry looks like to them,” Manitoba 4-H Council executive director Clayton Robins said. “Where are they going to work in it? What is there going to be?”
Participants were encouraged to consider available careers in the beef industry and identify challenges either personally or for the beef industry as a whole.
Now in the second week of November, organizers have checked off two forums, with one left Nov. 14 in Carman.
Eriksdale opened both the forum and MBP meeting schedule with producer concerns in the Interlake.
Only a small group gathered for the inaugural forum Oct. 23, according to Robins.
Participants faced similar questions at all three events, he said, although perspectives and answers shifted from forum to forum.
Public trust became a major theme for the events, taking the lead in both Eriksdale Oct. 23 and Austin over a week later.
It is a topic that has been pervasive in agriculture in general and has been widely publicized in the beef sector. In 2016, Earls restaurant chain became embroiled in a controversy over hormones in beef, temporarily sourcing their meat from the United States until public backlash became strong enough that they returned their business to Canada. Likewise, fast-food chain A&W has raised some producer ire with their ad campaign centred on beef “raised without any added hormones or steroids.”
Forum discussion on public trust aimed at education and public engagement efforts, with suggestions ranging from interactive class visits to farm field trips and packing plant tours.
“We brought up public trust and how we could get advertising out in many different ways to get the different age groups of people to trust our beef process,” said Shalyssa Sawatsky, of the Sidney 4-H Beef Club, on Nov. 3.
Those discussions have given the Manitoba 4-H Council and MBP some food for thought.
“We need to find more engaging ways to make that fun and that was a word that’s come out both times with these young members is that whatever we do to engage the youth; it needs to be fun, and that’s a message that we can clearly take back and figure out how to do a really good job of that,” he said.
A seven-year 4-H member, Sawatzky was one of six members from her club to attend after being encouraged by their club leader.
Only one other attendee, from the Treherne 4-H Beef Club, participated in the forum Nov. 3.
Participation echoed the short attendance list in Eriksdale.
Robins believed the small sizes were due to scheduling. The 4:30 p.m. youth forums were too early for more distant participants to make the trip after school, he said. Organizers plan to revisit the event’s timing next year.
All seven participants in Austin Nov. 3 said they planned to be producers, something Robins was pleased to report.
“All seven young ladies were talking about herds of their own and then what else they might do in the industry, so that in itself to me is extremely encouraging that that’s the mindset they have,” he said.
Two of those participants, sisters Megan and Shaelyn Beswitherick, also flagged public trust and beef industry perception out of the evening’s discussions.
“We talked about the education out in the public and how they feel about (beef) and what we could do to change how they feel about it,” Megan Beswitherick said.
Adrienne Driedger, also of Sidney, echoed Bewitherick’s frustration. The five-year 4-H’er cited unflattering news reports and negative attitude in the public around beef.
For others, however, issues were more practical and local.
While also mentioning public trust, Shaelyn Beswitherick pointed her gaze to land prices and the increasing difficulty for the young farmers who do not have capital to get started.
“We discussed what the issues were for upcoming people going into the beef industry and we talked about (how) getting land would be an issue if your family isn’t already in the industry. You would have to go other places. You wouldn’t be able to stay here, because there’s not that much land,” she said.
That view was unknowingly echoed later that evening during the regular MBP district meeting. The district noted that new producers may have difficulty accessing financing and passed a motion supporting more credit programs for new farmers. The motion now moves to the MBP annual general meeting in February 2018.