Rewards of Sustainability

Participation Bonuses Encourage Canadian Beef Producers to Buy Into Program

Victoria G Myers
By  Victoria G. Myers , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Canada's Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB) is moving into the marketplace fast, encouraged partly by an incentive program that is helping to drive more interest and accelerating supplies. (Logo courtesy of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef)

KILKENNY, Ireland (DTN) -- Don't call it a premium, but some in the Canadian beef industry have recently seen as much as $20 per head extra for being part of that country's audited pilot sustainability program headed up by Cargill. Those rewards were a big part of the conversation at this week's Global Conference on Sustainable Beef meeting in Kilkenny.

Every two years, the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) brings together members from around the world to report on progress on sustainable programs in their countries. Canada is the first to launch a commercial program.

Canada's Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB) started pilot projects in 2014 to generate interest in, and to build the supply of, beef meeting the country's established criteria for sustainability. Early in the process, talk of anything resembling a premium was discouraged, with some speakers at the 2016 Global Roundtable insisting sustainability was never going to be about marketing premiums. But as this first commercial program launched, there was clearly a monetary benefit tied to it. And while no one is prepared to say the incentive is permanent, at nearly $20 per head, it is definitely attention-getting.

Working with Cargill, the Canadian Beef Sustainability Acceleration (CBSA) Pilot set up a program where cattle operations, whether they be ranches, backgrounders, feedlots or packers, pay for their own audits to establish their beef as verified sustainable. That beef goes to CBSA program members (McDonalds, Loblaw, Recipe and Cactus Club Cafe) who make quarterly credit payments for pounds delivered. Cargill distributes this credit to producers based on number of animals that qualified for the program. The animals must stay in a certified program to slaughter. Every operation that meets CRSB's certification standards along the way receives this credit.

The standards include a wide range of criteria, including protections for wetlands, water sources and wildlife habitat, proper levels of soil protection, carbon footprint, air quality, worker treatment and community stewardship. Details for the program can be found here:

Deborah Wilson, senior vice president at Beef Infoxchange System (BIXS), reported to global meeting attendees that the program returned $10 per head in the first quarter of 2018. In the second quarter, the payment went to $20.11 per head; and in the third quarter to $18.52.

For a calf that moved from home farm, to backgrounder, to feedlot -- and assuming all three operations were verified -- bonuses were paid on the animal at each step. In that third quarter, more than 1 million pounds of beef came from certified sources, about double third-quarter production of 2017, Wilson said. More than 2.2 million pounds have qualified for Canada's program in the first three quarters of 2018.

The goal of CBSA is to accelerate supplies of sustainable beef under the CRSB framework. Not surprisingly, an increasing number of Canada's beef operations are taking steps necessary to qualify for the project. Producers schedule audits and pay the costs associated with program registration. Verified Beef Production Plus does program auditing. Producers are also responsible for tagging their animals with radio-frequency identifications and sharing that data with BIXS, which tracks cattle through the supply chain and validates operations.

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Victoria Myers