Cattle producers listen during a Manitoba Beef Producers forum at the Keystone Centre in 2011.
Manitoba Beef Producers has just completed its annual general meeting. I know I might be perceived as biased, but I think it was a great success.
Producers from all across Manitoba came together to debate policy and give direction to the board. This will help drive what the organization tackles in the coming year.
But the information flow is not just one way. One of the roles of associations like MBP is to look down the road and give producers a bit of a heads-up about what is coming at them. That is what I would like to do now — polish my crystal ball and look down the road.
It is almost a cliché to say that we live in an information age. New technologies from Apple or BlackBerry seem to be coming at us every second week. Televisions that used to have rabbit ears and 13 channels are now "smart" and give us access to billions of pieces of information from the comfort of our couch. While it is true that we are in the information age, it has not been as quick to envelope the beef industry.
That is changing, and it is changing rapidly. The information revolution is coming to beef production. This will make us more efficient, competitive and profitable. If Canadian beef production is going to remain viable on the world stage, as an industry we need to embrace the opportunities that information management has to offer.
The beginnings of this revolution are with us today. But often the systems are viewed as a large pain rather than a competitive tool that will allow us to differentiate Canadian beef from our competitors.
Traceability is the best example of an information exchange system that is often viewed with skepticism. That is because most of us don’t view traceability as an information tool. Rather it is looked upon as a cost imposed upon our industry as a result of BSE. But the components of traceability will be able to provide you with the tools to improve your genetics, increase your return from your management skills and better connect with consumers.
One of these new tools built around traceability is the Beef InfoXchange System, or BIXS. BIXS allows producers to capture, exchange and track specific individual animal data. For example, the system can give you the carcass yield and grade data when your animals eventually go for slaughter. Not only does the system give you the individual data, it also shows you where you rank compared to the rest of Canadian production.
BIXS will also facilitate targeted marketing plans for specific niche requirements on the world stage. If a particular client in Japan or another country wants to purchase a specific quality of cut, we can do a better job of meeting their needs through programs like BIXS.
What is the end result for producers? This will allow you to adjust your breeding programs and marketing plans based on the productivity and quality of the cattle you produce. The program has the potential to help you improve your efficiency, lower your costs and down the road increase what you are paid for your cattle. This is how information can help you become more profitable.
BIXS is a flow of information from processors back to the producer. Information flow in the other direction — from producers to consumers — will also be an important marketing tool. Consumers are asking two key questions. First: "Where does my food come from?" and second: "How is my food produced?"
Producers who can answer these questions will open up access to a different kind of consumer, one who is willing to pay a little bit more for their food. This applies to individual operations but it also applies to Manitoba and Canada as a whole. If we, as an industry, can answer these questions more completely than our competitors, we will better differentiate Canadian beef on the world stage and do a better job of securing high value customers.
How do producers answer consumers’ questions? Production management programs like Verified Beef Production are key tools in the process. Verification processes like VBP, combined with traceability, will allow you to tell producers exactly how their beef was produced and exactly where it comes from.
This is not as far-fetched or as far off into the future as you might think. Earlier this year, McDonald’s in Australia released a smart phone app called "Track My Macca’s." Users can download the free app, point their phone’s camera at a special code on the side of their burger box and see where the beef originated.
Why is McDonald’s doing this? Because answering the question "where does my food come from?" will help them sell more burgers and increase their profit. Part of that profit is shared with the producers who take on the information management practices that allow the program to function.
Traceability, VBP and BIXS are just some first examples of the coming information revolution. Millions of dollars are being spent on genomics research. The end results of this research will allow you to better tailor your breeding programs based on the genetic analysis of your cattle, leading to better growth rates, increased feed efficiency and improved meat quality. The science of genomics is rapidly changingtests are now available that allow an animal to be tested for 50,000 genetic differences.
Other research, such as Residual Feed Intake, or RFI, will help increase efficiency and lower costs. This research will also help lower your carbon footprint, which might just be a selling point that you can market to a willing buyer using programs like VBP and BIXS.
When will the information revolution hit your ranch? That is not an easy thing to predict. But you have already seen the first changes on your operation. More information management tools like BIXS and VBP are starting to become available to you. I think the potential value of systems like these is going to grow exponentially in the coming months and years.
Manitoba Beef Producers
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 1, 2013