From FCC Express
By Owen Roberts
Ontario beef farmers are embarking on a major regional marketing initiative designed to distinguish their product from others, and help producers here be more profitable.
The three-year, $1.8-million initiative is underway now. Cory Van Groningen, chair of the Beef Farmers of Ontario’s marketing and promotions committee, says the effort is meant to increase producers’ bottom line by creating more opportunities for streamlined products.
The initiative will complement broader, national programs that promote beef, while taking into account Ontario’s unique market position and product system – one influenced by higher costs of production, a more segmented population and pressure from other beef markets all over the world.
Identifying high-value markets
To Van Groningen, whose family runs vertically integrated operations in Simcoe and Stoney Creek, a key is identifying and servicing high-value local markets.
He points to small Ontario producers who have captured a consumer niche with products, such as high-quality, all-natural beef, and can support their families with small herds because they can charge a premium for those products.
That’s where he sees growth potential for beef production in Ontario, with producers raising beef animals with specific traits, such as low backfat, and processors having less carcass waste.
And, he says, in Ontario, the size of an operation is not a key factor for success.
“Here, good things start small. To grow the sector, we need more seeds in the ground, more producers taking this approach.”
Number-wise, the Ontario beef sector faces some challenges. Over the past decade, production has fallen 13 per cent. The provincial Ontario cow herd has shrunk by more than 30 per cent. And like the rest of the nation’s beef industry, it’s suffered from decreased beef consumption, too.
Adapting to a new market
Van Groningen doesn’t expect the regional marketing initiative to reverse the shrinking herd. But, he says, that may not be all bad. He says given the changing market, one scenario is that producers might be able to be profitable with fewer cattle, if they can get more value from them.
He believes the best opportunities will stem from capitalizing on consumer confidence in Ontario farmers. That means promoting local products, and on-farm traits, such as environmental sustainability.
“A distinguishing feature of Ontario beef is that it’s raised responsibly by Ontario farmers, and processed by Ontario companies,” he says.
Other features result from production practices, such as selecting for tenderness, consumers’ main driver. Van Groningen notes such features come together in the successful Ontario Corn Fed Beef program. It distinguishes beef by its point of origin, as well as by particular production practices.
Expect the regional marketing initiative to study the corn-fed beef program’s success for inspiration and guidance.
“What else can we do in the province that’s like this program?” asks Van Groningen. “Those are the kinds of opportunities we need to look for.”