Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability


Young rancher sees untapped market potential in animal care, sustainability

New modules in beef industry's VBP program mean new opportunities

Posted: September 4, 2014

Coy Schellenberg and daughter Ella on Lady.

Coy Schellenberg has a work life that is increasingly unusual in Canadian society. He's a fourth generation rancher on a heritage southern Saskatchewan ranch at a time when most of Canadian society is heading in the opposite direction – farther and farther removed from any agricultural roots.

That, in Schellenberg's mind, creates a challenge and an opportunity. Agriculture needs new ways to tell its story. That's the challenge. New options, that's an opportunity.

So when the Verified Beef Production (VBP) program, Canada's on-farm food safety program for the beef industry announced it was adding modules for animal care, biosecurity and environmental stewardship to its food safety platform, Schellenberg saw the positives.

To be fair, he had a unique perspective of those changes. One was as a young producer with a young family, running 450 cows alongside his parents and staking his future on sustainable beef production. The other was as a VBP staff member, a position he assumed when he became provincial coordinator for the program.

As a practical person with passion for the beef business, he has clear perspectives on their ranch and industry. Here are some of those.

On reaching consumers

CS: The originators of VBP had it right when they built the program around the simple statement: "I have nothing to hide and you are welcome to see."

We invite many friends from outside agriculture to come to our ranch as we brand cattle each spring. It gives them a chance to see firsthand how we handle cattle and explain why we do it. They also get to see the wonderful social time of the year when other ranchers come by to lend a hand. We return to help them as well.

It doesn't matter where I'm at in our industry, I find most producers are on the same wavelength that consumers are farther and farther away from the land, and are bombarded with incorrect information. So we need to be proactive in telling our story.

VBP hasn't done this directly yet but the tools are there to do a better job of reaching consumers and educating them. We need to tell consumers why we do certain things on our operations and why it is important to them and to the meat we provide.

On VBP changes

CS: I'm excited to see new modules added to VBP. It will be a huge benefit to beef producers to extend what we've learned on food safety education into these other realms. An opportunity for producers not only to improve the quality of their operations and consistency of the beef they produce, but also an opportunity to market how the beef is raised.

The VBP program could potentially be an overall guiding, third party assessed program that covers so many areas of their operation that benefit the public, the consumer, the industry and the animal.

The Schellenberg family

As producers we know that marketing of our beef will change in the years ahead as more groups come out with programs that cater to the consumer. We can begin advertising our product for attributes that we are already doing but not getting recognized for. Or modify it so it meets some other requirement.

So if a producer wants to be involved with these programs, VBP has so much potential to provide that third party auditing, authentic proof for whatever it is that the group is trying to provide.

On practical solutions in animal care

CS: When the new beef Code of Practice came out it showed that the beef industry felt there were some things that needed to change. But it also recognized that there are some things that are important and make sense and need to remain. So things like branding and castrating, as long as they are done in a timeframe that makes sense and the animal is not left vulnerable, those things need to remain in place.

We do not want the industry to respond totally on emotional and social response if it doesn't make sense at the producer level. It may make us feel better about it but it's not practical. We need a balance.

At the end of the day, like most producers we hold our lifestyle and our livestock close to our hearts. We're the ones in that severe moment when an animal is injured and is suffering, who go out and put it down. And it's not an easy thing to do.

I think that is a side of ranching that the consumer is missing. We love what we do and that's why we're doing it. We care for these animals not only because it's an economic issue but because it's a passion.

Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.




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