Policy, labelling, and the Canada/U.S. integrated beef value chain up for discussion at NCBA convention

(Kara Oosterhuis/RealAgriculture)

Dennis Laycraft, executive vice president of Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), is on location at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) annual convention happening now at Houston, Texas.

Laycraft is part of the Canadian contingent and is taking part in several meetings with his U.S. and Mexican counterparts, discussing country of origin labeling, sustainability, processing capacity, and the integrated North American market.

Mandatory country of origin labelling is not the desired outcome; Laycraft says that the groups meeting at NCBA have indicated that whatever they work on, it’s got to be fully compliant with their international trade obligations, i.e. the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“We’re in an election year in the U.S. with the midterm elections, so you get a lot of different things that start to creep into policy discussions, and you want to make sure this doesn’t actually become a de facto mandatory type measure. So we’ll be providing input on behalf of the Canadian industry directly into the rule-making procedures and discussions down there,” he says.

There are big discussions happening on price transparency and the proposed U.S. policy that will include mandatory cash sales each week, discussions that Laycraft says he’s quite curious on what the impact might be and what actual enforcement would look like. The U.S. is focused on adding some capacity in the next three to five years, at the same time that fewer animals are predicted to be coming to market, that could shift a portion of cut out values into the live cattle price.

Laycraft also mentions that China has not yet lifted its temporary ban on Canadian beef, but that he’s optimistic the issue will be resolved soon.

The blockade at the Coutts, Alta./Sweet Grass, MT, border is also significantly impacting the cattle industry.

“Right now we’re seeing with the blockade itself, lots of products backing up in the coolers, or talk of having to reduce the number of days that cattle are being processed. And this is starting probably this weekend, and it’s affecting our live cattle exports,” he says.

There are several loads of dry distiller’s grain (DDGs) and other feed products that are desperately needed in Alberta that can’t move north, either. That will result in cattle remaining in the inventory longer, eating more feed and, at the same time, it’s impacting our ability to get more feed into Canada.

“[The blockade] is having unintended consequences that are having a really negative impact. And we need to be finding a solution that [is] going to let those trucks carrying those products and carrying live cattle and the feed move across the border that’s really, really important to our beef cattle industry here in Canada. We’re used to a just-in-time delivery system with the U.S. That’s one of the great advantages we do have as a result of NAFTA and and the more recent USMCA agreement that we have. So when it works, it works extraordinarily well, but you can back up very quickly and that’s currently what’s happening.

He adds that it’s a 14 hour drive to get to another location to get across the border (there are only three crossings for boxed beef and/or live cattle) and some of the chilled beef products, particularly trim, have a limited shelf life; the product needs get to its destination so that when it does get to the final stop it’s got a shelf life at retail.