Young beef farmers see great future
By Wendy Beswick
Despite gloom among older beef farmers, three young farmers are filled with energetic entrepreneurial spirit, innovative ideas and a passion for agriculture. They shared their views on the future of the industry at the Ontario Cattlemen’s Association annual meeting. Here they speak with Farmers Forum.
While high land prices can be a barrier for young farmers, cow-calf producer Brad DeNure of Campbellford has centred his business plan on rented land in the industry he sees as promising for younger producers.
"The beef industry has to remain good for people to be in it," he said. "I’m 25, and out of all of my friends, there is only one other person that I know of that is cow-calf. So, like anything else, if there aren’t a lot (of us) out there it should create a high demand and keep our product at a pretty good price."
But DeNure balances the opportunities with some challenges facing producers of his generation.
"The economy is going to hurt us now," he said. "People may not have the money to buy the better cuts of meat. And our cost of production is a challenge. The cheaper you can produce the calves, the more money you will have at the end of the year. But, you can’t just kick the cows out on grass and expect the calves to flourish. You have to vaccinate, do the work, and create a product that people want."
DeNure acknowledges that today’s legislative environment is a far cry from the days before the RFID tag with its accompanying benefits of genetic profiling and production data.
"Regulations are getting so strict," he said. "They are almost taking the fun out of farming. But traceability is not a bad thing to have. I know that it is an added cost but it does open up our markets for our finished product. If that is what people want, then we better give it to them."
Scott Swain of Blackstock also finds the RFID technology and traceability an integral tool in his "Swain’s Farm Fresh Beef" direct marketing business plan.
"Our big opportunity is the changing buying patterns of consumers toward locally-produced food," he said. "More families are interested in knowing where their food comes from."
On the downside: "Our biggest challenge is our U.S. competitors," he said. "And any type of global disaster seems to impact the markets immediately. The Business Risk Management Plan that the Ontario Cattlemen has come out with enables us to reduce our risk and allows us to put a cost of production or potentially hedge a crop of livestock."
Kara Enright, of Enright Cattle Company in Tweed, fits the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s profile of a young farmer which states young farmers are more likely to have post-secondary education and are more likely to use a computer for their day-to-day operations on the farm. Like Swain, she direct markets beef through the Internet.
"Tools such as social media and the Internet are a very big part of our business," she said. "We use the Internet and computer for everything from taking online orders to tracking herd health and management."
While all three producers were optimistic about the future of the Canadian beef industry, Swain summed it up best.
"I really think there is a lot of opportunity in the beef industry for anybody who is interested," he said. "We’re experiencing a whole new price category in the market where more dollars are invested. I think that there is a huge potential for a bigger return than there has been in the last five or 10 years. We’re definitely addressing an expansion so that we can take advantage of the world economy and its change in diet to more meat consumption. Hopefully Canada can adapt and be competitive to meet some of these export markets."