Cattlemen’s group gets close to million-dollar funding boost

Consumers will be receiving ‘Beef 101' education in their grocery stores

The Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC (IAF) will contribute up to $2,138,217 in federal-provincial funding toward projects to help boost the Agri-food industry.

The British Columbia Cattlemen’s Association’s (BCCA) Ranching Task Force will get almost $1 million, while the remaining $1.16 million will be split between 24 other projects contracted between Jan. 1 and April 30.

The BCCA’s Consumer Education and Research Program (CERP) will receive $825,158 and its Strategic Economic Assessing of the BC Beef Cattle Value Chain will get $153,990, to be spread across three years.

BCCA president Kevin Boon says the association has been planning projects since the funding was originally announced at its 2010 annual general meeting, but just received the first influx in January.

The projects aim at increasing consumer interest in where food comes from and how it was raised, to provide the B.C. beef industry an opportunity for growth.

He says the idea is to boost consumer confidence in beef to spur more industry growth, including in the South Cariboo, where cattle production is integral to sustaining the economy and local producer families.

The CERP project includes BCCA’s largest program, Behind the Beef, which Boon adds his organization is “very excited” about.

“It’s gone beyond our wildest expectations. Some of the reach on it, where it might go, is quite astounding.”

The program aims to educate consumers on a one-to-one basis directly in urban grocery stores, 65 per cent of them in the Lower Mainland, he notes, and the rest elsewhere in B.C. and the Northwest United States.

Food buyers are informed about how beef is produced, farm animal care and the positive effects ranching has on the environment, Boon says, adding many have returned for the next store visit with more questions.

“[It’s] trying to put a more realistic face on where their food comes from, rather than just the meat counter.”

The program began last August in anticipation of the promised funding, he adds, and originally aimed at having 10-12 educators doing about 400 in-store visits a year.

“The uptake by the chains [of stores] has been phenomenal…. We ended up [with] up to 28 educators and we’re scheduled to do 2,000 in-store visits; we’re in 153 different stores.”

He explains the vision now is for the program to eventually target global markets, such as Asia.

Closer to home, they are looking to get the program into schools for young, upcoming consumers and also to certain larger fairs and exhibitions.

Behind the Beef is currently funded to run until March 2014, when Boon says he hopes the food retailers will pick up the slack.

“The whole idea behind this is trying to make something that will be self-sustaining once this funding is gone.”

Boon says the program has already received national attention and other provinces are showing interest in emulating the program model.

The other, strategic economic assessment program involves working with the abattoirs, feed lots, Thompson Rivers University and individual beef producers to develop a strategy to link current information on the industry throughout all sectors of the beef value chain in B.C.

100 Mile House Free Press