Beef Farmers of Ontario pitch marketing initiative to local federation - Jan. 18, 2018
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
Joe Hill, vice-president of the Beef Farmers of Ontario (BFO), was in Brussels last week and says there are some exciting innovations on the horizon in the Ontario beef industry.
Hill was the guest speaker at the Huron County Beef Producers’ annual meeting, which was held on Jan. 10 at the Brussels Legion. He said that the organization’s Regional Marketing Initiative (RMI), which began last year, is picking up steam. He said that the project is the most aggressive the organization has ever been towards marketing its product.
It has been a “bold step” he told members of the local organization, but it has been one he felt has been doing good work on behalf of the beef producers of Ontario.
The approach going forward will really focus on three pillars, he said: Branded products, new entrants and producer engagement and herd expansion.
In terms of branding Ontario’s beef products, Hill said that the organization has invested in an unprecedented level of consumer research with Hill+Knowlton Strategies, a New York City-based consulting firm.
The research has included a number of surveys, focus groups and engagement.
The goal of BFO, Hill said, is to have Ontario beef being sold through Ontario brands and processed at Ontario plants, which has been tough in recent years.
Work is ongoing, he said, for an unprecedented level of co-operation throughout the province’s commodity groups to create an “Ontario” logo for food produced in the province. If that branding could be established, consumers will know to look for products raised and produced in their home province and the beef industry would most certainly benefit from that, edging out beef from western Canada, the United States or beyond.
Not only would this kind of branding serve to sell Ontario-made products to Ontarians, but it would also help producers to be open and transparent with their customers about the processes behind creating the food they eat.
The branding and research for the BFO, Hill said, is anticipated to cost the organization $500,000 per year going forward.
In terms of gaining new entrants into the beef industry, Hill said that part of the project will not be without its challenges.
“We need to support and demonstrate clear pathways for new entrants,” he said.
BFO hopes to identify mentors across the province who could be connected with potential new beef farmers. This phase of the plan would utilize all forms of traditional and social media in an effort to help make those connections.
Over the last 12 years, Hill said that the beef industry has been in decline. The province has lost one-third of its beef herd over that time and the average age of an Ontario beef farmer is 55, which doesn’t bode well for the future of the industry, he said.
That’s an issue that needs to be formally addressed, he said, because it hasn’t been working itself out like many producers perhaps hoped that it would.
The program, Hill said, would also aim to connect new farmers struggling to break into the beef industry with those encountering problems leaving the industry (wanting to retire, but with no one to take over their farm operation).
The new entrants portion of the initiative is expected to run BFO $100,000 per year.
Walton-area producer Ron Stevenson said that connecting new producers with mentors sounds like a great idea, but that potential new entrants into the industry needed more than that to encourage them along.
Potential partnerships with banks and other lending associations with rural backgrounds, he said, are necessary to provide young farmers with real possibilities when it comes to starting their own farmers; not simply advice from someone who has been in the industry for decades, although that would also have its place in the process.
The third pillar of the program would aim at expanding the province-wide beef herd. It would continue to support existing producers and create a steady supply of Ontario beef, reducing the province’s dependence on beef from western Canada and the United States.
The budget for that portion of the initiative is $200,000 per year.
In order to pay for all of these programs, BFO is increasing the provincial check-off (the producer’s contribution to the upper-tier organization) from $3 to $4.50 per head of cattle.
Hill also detailed a proposed increase to the federal check-off, which is currently at $1 per head, to $2.50. He said he felt that change was almost done, but that Ontario producers were planning to challenge it.
All of the Ontario producers are farmers themselves, he said, and don’t want to pay anymore for the check-off than is needed. If an increase was to be implemented, he said, he felt it would have to be warranted.
All of these issues and proposed changes, Hill said, would be on the table at the Beef Farmers of Ontario’s annual meeting, which is scheduled for the end of February in Toronto.