Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File photo)

Ranch Musings: Diversity and Opportunity in the meat chain

Columnist David Zirnhelt writes about beef production and the local supply chain

David Zirnhelt

Observer Contributor

Out of the adversity created by the recent pandemic, could come an opportunity. I referred to this opportunity last week when I alluded to the “supply chain” that brings us our food.

I concentrate on the main local protein supply chain- beef. In BC, a recent study of food security cited a 64% self-reliance on meat and alternatives. But in food grain we are only 14% self- reliant. In fruit, this figure is 159%, and dairy 57%.

These gaps are the opportunities I speak of.

In the US, and I think here too, retail prices of meat is going up significantly while the rancher is getting less that before the crisis (pandemic).

Producers are faced with keeping the cattle longer on feed when they are ready for slaughter which costs more and blocks immature cattle from having space to be placed to grow.

What does it take to turn this adversity into an opportunity? It will take leadership, risk taking, and ingenuity to say nothing of the entrepreneurship required to construct the businesses and the business relationships (strategic alliances).

We in the beef cattle business have become complacent because some large businesses , the feedlots and the abattoirs, have willingly taken our product, mostly calves and some older cattle readied for the finishing part of getting the cattle ready for slaughter.

The large packing plants thrive on mass production such that workers often have poor pay and working conditions. The Tyson plants in the US have 4500 workers with COVID-19. There have been 18 deaths and there is no paid sick leave for the workers.

It is hard to have workers six feet apart the way the “disassembly” plants are designed for maximizing productivity.

This opportunity might be for smaller abattoirs which concentrate on a safe, humanely raised and finished meat product.

If we continue to pay attention to the health of all the links in the production and supply chain, and link value (healthy) to the chain, then we have a product with a place in the supply of a major food product for us at home and in the world.

We need to collaborate –producers, processors, and marketers- to rebuild the food supply system. More diversity in size and location should make the overall system more resilient under pressure than the current system is.

To do this there will need to be an attitude shift that we want to work together to build a stronger chain of supply. You know the story that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Collaboration, that is working with others in the interest of all involved, will be the business and social value that underpins rebuilding this part of the economy. Too few(big) players may be the weak link as we are seeing now.

I said at the beginning, retail prices of meat are going up but the cattle producers are losing money. The news has just reported that in the US, the Justice department is examining this dilemma. Something is rotten in the meat supply chain.

Producers need well integrated alternatives and which serve a different market, and which reflects the reality that we are all in this together: producers, processors and retailers.

READ MORE: Ranch Musings: Local food (protein) supply in these COVID times


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Quesnel Business Support Team is seeking feedback from local business community

‘What is the biggest challenge facing your business today?’

WildSafeBC hires new co-ordinator for Cariboo region

Mareike Moore said the main message is keeping wildlife wild, communities safe

CITY HALL: Investing in our transition strategy

City council news from Mayor Bob Simpson

Family bond strengthened through mask-making

A B.C. Indigenous youth is making face masks for firefighters after having made some for family

About 30% of B.C. students return to schools as in-class teaching restarts amid pandemic

Education minister noted that in-class instruction remains optional

Be cautious expanding COVID-19 bubble, Dr. Bonnie Henry tells B.C.

Senior homes stay off-limits as schools, businesses reopen

RCMP, coroner investigate murder-suicide on Salt Spring Island

Two dead, police say there is no risk to the public

Trudeau avoids questions about anti-racism protesters dispersed for Trump photo-op

Prime minister says racism is an issue Canadians must tackle at home, too

NDP getting COVID-19 wage subsidy ‘indirectly,’ B.C. Liberal leader says

B.C. NDP says Andrew Wilkinson is wrong about federal link

Parent, superintendent, trustee report smooth return to classrooms in B.C.

The biggest challenge is convincing families that it’s safe, some say

George Floyd asphyxiated by sustained pressure: family autopsy

Death sparked a wave of protests across the U.S. and abroad

Most Read