A conversation with Temple Grandin

On Monday July 12, 2023, UAlberta awarded Temple Grandin  (distinguished Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University and renowned advocate and expert in animal welfare and autism) an Honorary Degree during the Convocation ceremony to recognize her remarkable achievements. This prestigious recognition highlights her exceptional contributions to the field of agriculture, particularly in improving livestock handling practices and implementing animal welfare auditing programs with industry in North America.

During her visit, she dedicated time to meet and have lunch with faculty members, research associates, undergraduate and graduate students of the Faculty of Agricultural, Life, and Environmental Sciences. What an honour it was for two Gentec team members to meet this lady, scientist and icon in the animal welfare field.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Stanford Blade, Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences, UAlberta

She was genuinely interested in our research. She kindly asked each of us to introduce ourselves and our research interests. In particular, she offered insights about the value of rigorous research. She also offered her precious advice to our undergraduate and graduate students, describing what a good scientific paper should be, focusing on the proper description of the scientific methodology and analysis. She mentioned that, when she reads a scientific paper, she wants to be able to visualize it – not a surprise for anybody familiar with her career or the biopic “Temple Grandin”. If the methods are not properly described, then the scientific value of the paper is compromised.

She also talked about her books, especially her new one “Visual Thinking: The Hidden Gifts of People Who Think in Pictures, Patterns, and Abstractions,” which explains that we live in a language-dominated world that tends to sideline visual thinkers, screening them out at school and passing them over in the workplace – even though visual thinkers constitute a far greater proportion of the population than previously believed. Her take-home message for us was: There is a place for visual thinkers in science.

Thank you, Professor Grandin!

Elda Dervishi and Niloofar Pejman


“You can’t teach a stick to fetch a dog.”

Sean McGrath, owner/operator of Round Rock Ranching, a centennial ranch in Vermilion River County, AB, and member of Gentec’s Management Advisory Board, participated as a speaker in the Partnerships in Practice session at RDAR’s Round-Up on June 8, 2023, in Calgary. For those unable to attend in person, we’ve summarized his main thoughts for you below.

“The most important message I wanted to bring was that we can’t present science, knowledge or technology as a how-to manual,” says Sean. “It’s not a linear Step 1, Step 2 process. That doesn’t inspire hearts and minds. It’s about listening and understanding what a potential user wants to accomplish, and then asking whether said science, knowledge or technology can get them there.”

Usually, that means a big shift in thinking on both sides of the table and an equal amount of humility. From the researchers who could spend some more time in the field understanding what works and what doesn’t, and really listening to what producers need so that the receptive audience is ready when The Next Big Thing arrives. And from the producers who are ticklish about trying new stuff or because they’re not clear about the cost/benefit ratio, and asking researchers to explain when they don’t understand. See heading for pithy quote. In fact, helping the Gentec team make those vital connections to producers like him was a key reason for joining the Management Advisory Board.

“I think anger is the leading edge of learning,” says Sean. “There’s no point being offended if the ‘thing’ doesn’t work. Anger indicates a lack of understanding somewhere but we have to fall back on communications or understanding the other point of view to use negative responses to drive positive change. It takes a sustained effort!”

…And communications, and patience. Sean provided a couple of helpful examples. In dairy or grain, technology is about saving labour. Milking robots are more productive than people. If a technology can add $20/head in profit but adds labour, it’s not that fascinating. The tapped-out producer wants something that saves TIME so he can go watch his kids’ ball game.

In beef, however, technology tends to drive production but the case has to be made to justify the investment. Beef producers with ~200 head have an average net income of $18,000/year. For them to make a significant investment in genomics and move the needle to $20,000/year doesn’t change their lives much/at all. Bump it up to $35,000… that’s different. Sometimes, there just isn’t enough money available to take the risk. Which takes Sean back to communications.

“Framing is important. Piquing curiosity is important,” he says. “The truck ad on TV doesn’t talk about brakes, power door locks and four tires because that’s not inspiring. It speaks to lifestyle and possibilities. We have so much to tell that’s not getting out there.”

So what drives uptake? Partly, the early adopters. One of their challenges is that they take on the financial risk themselves. If the innovation works out, they get the rewards earlier and longer… but by the time the innovation is well established, a program comes out that pays the laggards to catch up—like around GHG mitigation on-farm. That can be discouraging. Nonetheless, the peer-to-peer network is a hugely valuable bridge for going that final mile.

“All the formal extension we can afford to do or pay to do is probably 10% as effective as peer-to-peer,” says Sean. “Peer-to-peer says, ‘I know you and trust you. I know you have family pressures. I know the price of canola is in the tank so there’s pressure there, too.’ Connections like these are a great place to start. The challenge is getting the research community to become peers.

Challenge, indeed. Most ag researchers aren’t farm-bred or even local. They don’t speak the same lingo as producers. But not every researcher needs to become a peer. Some just aren’t wired that way, and shouldn’t be forced into situations they’re not equipped for. Circling back to that shift in thinking… producers’ knowledge base is an inch deep and a mile wide. For researchers, it’s the opposite. Both are indispensable. The trick is finding where the two mesh.

As for the laggards, see heading again. That said, anybody who manages a business is accountable for making it successful so it’s up to them to seek out information or work towards their goal or vision. Sean explains with his own example. Round Rock Ranchings’ vision statement is “The Best Beef in a Better World.”

“When technology becomes available, I ask myself, ‘does it move us towards our vision’?” he says. “If No, then I put it aside. If Yes, I look deeper or do some math. Most producers don’t have a formal vision—but they do have a general idea. We need to align them with technology and information that excites them and moves them towards their goals. That’s why the listening piece is so important.”

“Research is about what we don’t know. We’re spending money on it but we don’t know the implications. That’s why we’re doing it.”

Sean McGrath


At the Grill with William Torres: The value of research

This month’s At The Grill feature by William Torres (storyteller, empathetic connector and resonate catalyst) talks about the research organizations working to support Canada’s beef industry.

Research money, where does it go? Well, the simple answer is, To you!

I’ve been asked a few times, all this research that all the colleges, universities, and organizations do, where are the results? I think that we (the producers) expect our scientists and representatives to walk onto our operation and be like, “Howdy, do you have time to talk about the latest findings in cattle genomics?”

The reality is, it’s nearly impossible to visit every single farm, ranch, and/or feedlot operation in the province. However, the information is there and it’s available to you. Whether you want to know about cattle genomics, forage options, heifer and sire selection, our researchers put together symposiums, farm days, and a variety of events to share the latest information with the public. Additionally, there are multiple provincial and federal sources on the internet where you can easily search and access your specific topic of interest (Gentec’s newsletter provides a current list every month).

Show me proof! No problem, lets start right here;

Livestock Gentec is the “Centre for research and commercialization of genomics technologies for livestock competitiveness and sustainability.” Established in 2010, it is a “trusted source of industry-led research and knowledge and tech transfer services, partnering with existing entities and targeting genetic improvement in beef and pork.” Who can you contact? John Basarab is the Head of Beef Operations. Jenny Patterson is our Pork Liaison. You can phone 780.248.1740 or send an email to the general inbox for information.

The Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) is also an excellent choice of Canada-based information. BCRC is “Canada’s national industry-led funding agency for beef, cattle, and forage research. The BCRC’s mandate is to determine research and development priorities for the Canadian beef cattle industry and to administer Canadian Beef Cattle Check-Off funds allocated to research.” The Function and Funding page provides a breakdown of where all the research funds go. Since these are your check-off dollars, it’s nice to see how your money is being spent to benefit our industry and keep Canadian beef at the forefront of the markets. Who can you contact? Reynold Bergen is the Science Director ((403) 451-1180). He also has an ability to translate PhD into lay language. Tracy Herbert ((306) 850-5026 ) is the Extension and Communication Director, her role is to focus on accelerating the adoption of innovations.

Olds College Technology Technology Access Centre for Livestock Production is another great source for information, and where to visit live applications of established and new technology at the forefront of our industry. Plus, it hosts an annual gathering of all cool things technology every August. Sean Thompson is the Manager ((403) 556-8314).

Lakeland College Lakeland College Applied Research. Lakeland’s tactical focus for applied research activity is to advance real-world agricultural productivity and sustainability in key commercial crop and livestock sectors. It has a dedicated research centre with multiple facilities, dedicated scientists, and instructors at the forefront of training the next generation of producers and farmers. For contact information, reach out to Obioha Durunna ((780) 853-8481), research scientist, and Susan Markus ((403) 741-6850), research scientist.

Finally, several events are coming up where you can take advantage of face-to-face meetings and interactions to reach out and get answers to your questions, plus learn more about our industry. As I said, see Gentec’s letter for an updated list.

Bottom line is, there is plenty of access to information that can benefit you and your operation.














Reducing methane in cow burps in the short term

“Feeding cows seaweed may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the overwhelming impact of global greenhouse gas emissions. Not so … The reality is that we are at a point on climate change where we have to throw all this spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.”

Sarah Ann Smith, Director of the Super-pollutants (meaning methane) program at the US-based Clean Air Task Force.

Ok, back to reality…

In our last article, we touched on the intersection of several issues relating to beef production, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the gaps between the public perception of the industry and reality. While there are a lot of moving parts, a quick recap includes:

So, while everyone has to eat, and although Canada and Canadian Beef account for a very small portion of GHG emissions, it is important that we all play our part in reducing the environmental footprint of beef while still doin’ what Alberta does best… servin’ up safe, delicious, nutritious, and sustainable Alberta beef.

As Gentec Head of Beef Operations John Basarab previously stated, there are several ways progress can be made towards achieving these objectives, with each one delivering results on differing time horizons. And while all three can be initiated simultaneously, today, we focus on those that can have an impact relatively quickly. These include altered feeding regimes, the inclusion of feed supplements, and practices that reduce the time to harvest.

For an update on these, we turn to one of Gentec’s supporting pillars, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). AAFC livestock specialists, including Dr. Karen Beauchemin, working out of the Lethbridge Research Centre, are pursuing several strategies to reduce the GHG impacts of livestock, with much of the work looking at ways to reduce methane emissions. Methane alone accounts for roughly 50% of total GHG produced on a typical beef or dairy operation.

The good news is that AAFC research has identified multiple ways of reducing methane in the immediate term. Many focus on changes to cattle feed or supplementation regimes. And if one believes that “many hands make light work” then the challenge may not be as insurmountable as initially thought. Many big names in the industry are working hard to realize gains in protecting our environment:

  • DSM produces a supplement called BovaerÒ that may reduce methane emission from dairy cattle by up to 45%.
  • Mootral, a garlic / citric supplement, has shown reduced methane emission by a similar amount. Closer to home, Lakeland College (Gentec alumnus Obi Duranna) is investigating the impact of garlic feed-supplementation on methane production.
  • Tim Horton’s parent company, Restaurant Brands International, is involved in research showing that adding lemongrass to cattle diets can reduce methane by about 1/3.
  • Other big names looking for ways to reduce GHG emissions of beef include Alltech, Syngenta and Cargill.
  • Seaweed, Asparagopsis taxiformis, has some of the most studies and significant reductions in methane production when used as a feed supplement – estimated to be 82% or even higher (99%) under specialized conditions.

More and more work is also being done directly by producers and their representative organizations. Gentec collaborator, Lakeland Agricultural Research Association’s (LARA) Forage and Livestock Program Manager, Megan Wanchuk, points out that:

“LARA has evaluated the yield and nutritional value of alternative feeds (chicory and plantain), which studies have shown to reduce the environmental impact of cattle through decreased rumen ammonia production and reduced urine nitrogen. We are evaluating yield and quality of different cover crop blends for silage or grazing to find an alternative to cereal monocrops that can improve soil health and reduce the amount of fertilizer required. And we’re always looking for opportunities to explore ways to improve the operational efficiency and environmental impact of our members.”

Immediate gains are also beginning to arrive from a source previously viewed as offering benefit only over the much longer term. AAFC has noted that significant gains in efficiency and GHG emissions can be achieved by improving the reproductive performance of cows in a way that reduces the need for replacement heifers.

Gentec-developed EnVigour HXTM, the genomic tool to calculate breed composition and hybrid vigour, also forms the foundation of Gentec’s 2nd generation of products, including the Replacement Heifer Profit IndexTM score. The RHPI combines hybrid vigour with several traits of critical economic importance to beef cow/calf producers, allowing them to better select “genomically” for fertility, longevity, and lifetime productivity. See the case study (scroll manually to page 13) and follow up article in The Blade (scroll manually to page 20)


















At the Grill with William Torres: Beef, creating memories ever since carnivores have been around

This month’s At The Grill feature by William Torres (storyteller, empathetic connector and resonate catalyst) talks about the best cuts for BBQ season and the pleasures that go with them.

With the May long weekend out of the way, this signals the start of BBQ season.

Let’s talk about our favorite cuts of beef to grill or what to order when dining out. Some of ya’ll might opt for the easy burgers and all-beef hot dogs so I’ll quickly cover those as well. Since there are many options, I’ll give you some of my go-to recipes and cuts, plus what’s available out there for you.

Let’s start with burgers. There are so many options but my favorites are The Keg’s prime rib burgers available at Costco, I really like these for their juiciness, thickness, and seasoning. Costco also offers Angus burgers, which is another good, juicy and flavourful choice. Another option is President’s Choice sirloin burgers from Superstore. We usually buy cheese buns, and top them off with fresh tomatoes, onions, and lettuce.

On the wiener side, if you’re a fan of the $1.50 hot dog at Costco, then their Kirkland signature all-beef wieners are for you (and me, lol). A triple pack of 12 runs about $22.29.

Now onto the real memory-creating moments. Remember, there is no “chicken fork”—but there IS a “steak knife”!

My top five steaks in ascending order are:

  • Skirt steak: although not my top choice for steak-eating alone, it is the #1 choice for fajitas. Side note, fajitas is the Spanish word for little skirts, hence “skirt steak”. Chickens don’t have a skirt cut so there is no such thing as chicken fajitas. Now you know. Thin-slicing and marinating this cut with an acid-like citrus juice to help breakdown the fibers makes for easy grilling and prevents that tough chew when you take a bite of those delicious tacos.
  • NY strip: A strip steak is the half of a porterhouse or T-bone without the filet mignon. Cut from a little-used muscle on the loin, this steak is particularly tender—though less so than the filet mignon or ribeye. It carries a nice richness due to its marbling. A New York strip will have a thicker fat cap around the meat, which is helpful for retaining juices during the cooking process. You may not want to chew through this thick fat but it will be a boon during the cooking process.
  • T-bone steak: A T-bone is probably one of the most recognizable steaks due to the t-shape of the bone and meat. T-bones offer the best of both worlds. On the one hand, you’ll get a lean filet. On the other, you’ll have a marbled strip loin with plenty of flavour. This cut is like the porterhouse steak we will discuss next but without the fullness on the filet side. T-bones can be a great cut to share for those who like a little bit of everything in their meats.
  • Porterhouse steak: As I said, a porterhouse is a bone-in short-loin steak like a T-bone but with a heftier portion of tenderloin filet than the T-bone can offer. It’s one of the best cuts you’ll find in a steakhouse. Due to the size of the cut, a porterhouse steak is generally featured as an option for two guests or for sharing with the table. Porterhouse can be temperamental and delicate so be sure to cook it on the grill or in a big, high-quality searing pan deep enough to allow the juices (I always use butter, quartered garlic cloves and rosemary sprigs) to simmer in the pan while your meat is searing. Tilt the pan every so often and spoon the juices over the top of the steak to soak in all the flavours.
  • Bone-in ribeye: In my opinion, this cut is the “BEST” cut of all steaks. All bones are full of a substance called marrow. In steaks, marrow comes in two forms: red marrow and yellow marrow.The yellow marrow in steak bones is positively delicious. Cowboys used to call this prairie butter, and it’s one of the most underused, underappreciated ingredients out there. When you cook your steak, the yellow marrow seeps through the bone and into your meat to give it a smoother, buttery flavour.

Side note, a Tomahawk is a bone-in ribeye with at least five inches of rib bone left intact. The higher price comes from the added prep-time in butchering this cut. So, bone-in ribeye for me it is.

How to grill and for how long is your choice. I prefer medium to medium-well. If you cook your steaks well-done, please unfriend me and unsubscribe from this newsletter. 😊

Bon appetit!

Introduction to the BIF 2023 Symposium on Precision Breeding: Technical breakouts, Olds College Program and conference tour

This year’s BIF symposium focuses on practical ways to make selection decisions (and genetic improvement in general) more precise and better tailored to your environment and market. The Symposium program encompasses the most recent advances in tools and technology, with a strong focus on practical application. It includes world-renown Canadian hospitality, producer recognition awards, a tour of the Technology Access Centre and new meat-processing teaching facility at Olds College, a showcase of the data-integrated beef production value chain, and most notably, nine scientific sessions that discuss the state of the art with regard to genetic improvement. Last month, we focused on the Young Producer Symposium, the Plenary sessions and Wednesday’s Technical Breakouts: this month, the Technical Breakout sessions on Tuesday and the can’t-miss feedlot tour.

TECHNICAL BREAKOUT SESSIONS – Tuesday, July 4, 2:30 – 5 pm

Advancements in Selection Decisions, chaired by Dr. Matt Spangler, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Dr. Larry Keuhn, USDA, will kick off this technical breakout discussing breed differences, and how to leverage these for the best outcomes. Genetic diversity has become increasingly important in the dairy industry, and this has started to reflect in the beef industry. Dr. Filippo Miglior will discuss quantifying inbreeding levels and contemplating inbreeding in selection from a dairy perspective. Dr. Troy Rowan, University of Tennessee, will bring it all together by discussing advancements in genomic technology.

Advancements in Producer Applications, chaired by Dr. Darrh Bullock, University of Kentucky

This session dives into the value of genomics and genetic selection tools, particularly from a commercial producer perspective. “Why commercial producers should be interested in genomics”, and indeed why EPDs (or even gEPDs) should be a key tool for all producers will be tackled first by Dr. Troy Rowan, University of Tennessee, and then by a panel of producers: Sean McGrath (member of Gentec’s Management Advisory Board), Harold Bayes, Paul Bennett and Donnell Brown. Gentec Director of Beef Operations John Basarab will talk in Wednesday’s genomics and genetic prediction breakout about the Gentec tools available to help producers start using genomic information (the Replacement Heifer Profit Index™ and Feeder Profit Index™: see also page 12 of The Blade for a case study). To complement, Shannon Argent from the Canadian Cattle Association Verified Beef Production (VBP+) will talk about how emerging sustainability demands can be met by genetics.

Advancements in Efficiency and Adaptability, chaired by Dr. Mark Enns, Colorado State University

Always generating great interest, this session speaks to current profitability and sustainability drivers of selection. Dr. Megan Rolf, KSU, will present on current research around methane and feed intake, concentrating on the collection protocol for GHGs and what opportunity in the beef industry the resulting data present. Dr. Tim Holt, CSU, will speak to advancements in adaptability, with a focus on “Pulmonary Hypertension: Feedlot Heart Failure and High-Altitude Disease”. Dr. Holt has contributed to the pulmonary arterial pressure (PAP) measurement guidelines for the Beef Improvement Federation, and has developed a heart-scoring system to determine levels of pulmonary hypertension and heart tissue remodelling at harvest. Dr. Scott Speidel, CSU, will expand on the topic by discussing the genetics driving those heart scores and the relationships with performance. To frame some of the talks, Dr. Justin Buchannan, Simplot, will wrap up this session and give his take on feedlot heart disease from the perspective of a vertically-integrated production chain.

Afternoon – Wednesday, July 5


In the afternoon, there is a tour of Olds College Campus from 3 pm to 6:30 pm, which includes a visit to the National Meat Training Centre, Olds College Smart Farm, and Technology Access Centre. Additionally, there is a microbrewery and “Beef in a Global Way” tasting.

POST BIF SYMPOSIUM TOUR – Thursday, July 6, 8 – 5:30 pm

This includes a personal tour through Rimrock Feeders, one of Canada’s most cutting-edge feedlots that applies technologies such as biodigesters and roller-compacted concrete to improve production efficiency and animal health and welfare.

Travelling through the heart of Alberta’s ranchlands on the picturesque Cowboy Trail, we will also visit Hamilton Farms, a seedstock operation eager to showcase its application of genomic technology, high immune response testing, and genetic improvement through an integrated value chain and data-sharing system. UCalgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine will also be showcased here. Faculty members are dedicated to studying the impacts of maternal environment in beef cattle. Tour participants can expect presentations on the impact of different pain mitigation strategies after difficult calving, risk factors associated with mismothering, and the economic impact of maternal behaviour. The faculty also does a significant amount of work on disease epidemiology, and there will be presentations on the incidence of disease based on bull management practices, effective management practices to reduce preweaning calf loss and parasite control strategies.

Just west of Hamilton Farms is UCalgary’s own W.A. Ranches, a working commercial operation that allows for in-field research on calving interventions, human – animal interactions, the effects of wildlife (wild boar, for example) on cattle, bull behaviour, and calf preconditioning. The tour will include a home-raised, home-smoked Hamilton Farms beef lunch against a backdrop of our majestic Rocky Mountain range.

Kajal Devani

Canadian Angus Association





At the Grill with William Torres: Fire! Fire!

This month’s At The Grill feature by William Torres (storyteller, empathetic connector and resonate catalyst) talks about wildfire season and how cattle can be mitigating factors.

Did you know that Alberta had 1,246 wildfires in 2022? Where 61% of them were human-caused, 38% lighting caused, and 1% under investigation.

As I was preparing for this article, I thought I’d give some advice about the “upcoming fire season” only to realize that we have already had 27 wildfires in Alberta, 11 in the last seven days alone.

But what do wildfires have to do with cattle you ask? Over the last several years, wildfires on agricultural lands have increased, causing damage to orchards, crops, livestock, and farm infrastructure. Outside of the direct flames, smoke damages crop quality, such as grapes used in wine production. Agricultural areas with irrigated crops are often viewed as being safety buffers during wildfires. However, in the last decade, wind-driven heat from surrounding wildfires has burned into some surprisingly well-irrigated crops. Smoke inhalation also has a negative effect on circulating immune cells, which can hinder the respiratory system, the first defence against smoke inhalation.

A factor called Temperature Humidity Index (THI) is a single value that represents the combined effects of air temperature and humidity associated with the thermal level of stress. According to Dr Julia Herman from the NCBA Beef Quality Assurance program, “THI compounds the effects of wildfire smoke. There can be negative impacts on metabolism, milk production, and immune system function when cattle are exposed to either or both wildfire smoke and high THI.”

There are very few peer-reviewed articles on wildfire effects on cattle, particularly in Western Canada. But do we really need to spend research money and grants to understand that they are not good for the cattle? I mean, if we humans can see and feel the effects, what makes anyone think that livestock are exempt?

Go ahead… ask any producer who has experienced either a wildfire or fled from one with their livestock. They won’t paint a pretty picture. The stress of rounding up livestock is bad enough under normal circumstances. Add chaos, wildfire smoke and high THI, and they will be the ingredients for a mess to come. If you ever must deal with the above-mentioned situations, pay attention to signs of respiratory irritation, such as coughing, fast or heavy breathing, and general signs of illness such as droopy ears or discharge from nose or eyes. Remember to limit exercise and unnecessary movements of the animals, practise low-stress handling and keep water sources clean.

So… what can you do or what is being done to prepare for such disasters? Here’s the beauty: cattle are already at work mitigating wildfires while grazing forests. When cattle graze on our forest lands, they are better suited than goats or sheep to consume the grass-dominated fuel lines that burn, and they don’t need the protection from predators that other small species require. I remember running our “grass” cattle in crown land and private land during late spring and summer months. One thing for sure, the genetics that you selected for your herd showed up at work during these periods. As cattle consume overgrown grass and shrubs, they naturally aerate the ground while walking, then they defecate and spread seeds along the way, giving growth to new humid grass that won’t burn as fast.

At home, you should incorporate fire procedures in your emergency plan. Have potential exits, round-up procedures, trucking companies that you may have to call upon, coordinate with your neighbours. It is better to be prepared and not need to execute a disaster plan than to be in the middle of it and not know what to do at the last minute. Contact your veterinarian to help you prepare one if you need help.





Ted Bilyea tells it like it is: Waste not, want not!

“At the global level, unless there’s a major technology change in how we produce food where we don’t need land, we’re going to have a food security problem fairly soon,” predicts Ted Bilyea, Former Executive VP of Maple Leaf Foods Inc. “It’s beginning to unfold in front of us.”

Ted breaks the issue down into the three A’s.

Thirty years ago, about 12% of the world food was supplied by trade. That figure is now close to 25%. That’s pretty fragile. In Canada, we don’t have “availability” problems because 70% of what we consume is grown here, and we still export 50% of production. Our availability issue is that we’re the largest importer of U.S. processed-food in the world.

“Many of the US companies that had processing plants in Canada closed them up after NAFTA,” says Ted. “They no longer needed Canadian processing to sell here, and they already had marketing and distribution set up.

Push come to shove, we might not get everything here that we want to eat but we won’t starve to death either.

“That’s when s**t happens,” says Ted. “Covid… closed border with the US… supply chain issues. Especially in the North. Solutions will involve better energy use so they can grow food themselves.”

And we need to do something about food waste. There are two sides to this: what happens before and after food items hit the store. On the before side, issues of rotting, storage, transport, etc. in the developing world can be taken care of with technology transfer, capital investment and political will. Far more troubling everywhere is the threat of disease. For example, China lost half of its hogs due to disease (mostly African swine fever) since 2018. That’s a quarter of all the hogs in the world. Just one single case of BSE (mad cow disease) in Alberta in December 2021 led China, Korea and the Philippines to ban imports of Canadian beef. An outbreak of avian flu in the US in 2015 led to the culling of 75 million poultry, and cost US$879 million to eradicate from production. These are not one-offs.

“On the consumer side, we should stop thinking of the contents of the green box as waste,” says Ted. “It’s an input to somebody else’s business in terms of upcycling. Even meat—because fats become biodiesel. So let’s be careful what we define as waste. It’s all energy in another form. If we’re doing things right, there’s no such thing as waste.”

But there’s a far more insidious issue on the horizon. Globally, we’re coming to the end of the era of abundance, convenience and perfection, food-wise. We’ve taken food for granted for too long. The shift is underway to an era where that may still be true occasionally, locally, depending on the product and location but we’re beginning to look at a future where scarcity is the more likely outcome.

“Productivity is the best indicator of where we’re going,” says Ted. “Supply vs demand is dropping. We don’t have the global security stocks we used to have. Why? Climate change, declining R&D investment in agriculture (Alberta’s RDAR is an exception that proves the rule) and the use of non-renewable groundwater.”

*click picture to enlarge

Eleven percent of the total agriculture trade globally depends on groundwater. In the US, 64% of groundwater is used for irrigation. Fifty percent of that comes from the Ogallala aquifer. The replenishment rate of these aquifers is way down or even zero. Think California. The Ogallala aquifer will take 6,000 years to replenish. When those global aquifers run dry—and they willl!—that 11% of trade will also dry up.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Some companies will move into Canada because they value our competitive advantages. Water is one of them. Another is the prairie grasslands.

“One of the first things I learned at Canada Packers is that you can’t move the feed to the animals,” says Ted. “Most of the world is still trying to defend against that because they want to grow their own animals so they import massive amounts of corn and barley. With the emissions footprint, it makes no sense. It never did. You need tariff barriers and subsidies when you’re not competitive. Canada’s western competitive advantage is built in. We have the grass and the feed. And companies like McDonalds and Loblaws pay a premium for the sustainable beef we grow with it.”

This is, of course, where Gentec steps in and shines. Gentec’s tools for researchers (EnVigour HX™, and the new Feeder and Replacement Heifer Profit Indexes) and projects that demonstrate the value of grazing cattle on grasslands will help producers and Western Canada maintain that competitive advantage.

People on low or fixed income have survived this period of abundance because food was cheap. Those days are gone. Major countries are running into issues of availability. Increases in yields are slowing dramatically. We’ve brought massive amounts of land into production. That game is over. Now we’re losing land out of production due to climate change.

“If you had to pick a place to live and farm, Western Canada is a great place,” says Ted. “I see a huge demand for meat. I just wish we had more grass on which to raise more cattle with the least GHGs of anybody in the world!”

The appealing lifestyle is all over social media. The poop isn’t!

Who’s the liar now?

We don’t often get an opportunity to compare apples to apples in terms of social media content vs reality, especially when it comes to agriculture. Producers reading the Wall Street Journal’s “Instagram Stars Make Farm Life Look Delightful – Minus the Manure” might shake their heads in disbelief. Consumers who haven’t had a chance to ever visit a farm might be left with completely the wrong idea. Contrast that with the “How Do We Make Connections” session presented at the Canadian Industry Beef Conference (CBIC 2021). Let’s just say that the two could not have been farther apart in content or theme… starting with the featured personalities.

The Wall Street Journal article starts with the “reigning Mrs. Utah and Julliard-trained ballerina” who emphasizes posts portraying a “farmcore” aesthetic (apparently, it’s a thing) of dancing in the barn in cowboy boots, carefully-organized baskets of eggs with “bonus points” if some blue ones find their way into the mix. Children, readers are warned, can “make a beautiful space not so beautiful”. Tank tops are not Prairie-child wear; and Paw Patrol sweatshirts wreck an otherwise picture-perfect scene.

The second featured farm-influencer, Parisienne Farmgirl, named for her love of Paris and all things French. Like the other influencers presented, Ms. Paris agrees that farmcore comes with an ick factor that is best left out of the photos: the pancetta is gorgeous when coated generously with herbs… What’s behind that photo? “It’s me raising that pig and the smell that goes with it” Then there’s the “amount of manure my cow makes… it’s alarming.” Neither makes it to Instagram.

On the other hand, the CBIC presentation featuring highlights of connecting two social media influencers with two real Canadian beef producers on their farms. Apryl Munro of @thiskindalife was a guest of Gordon Dibble of Dibbhurst Farms near Ingersoll, Ontario. Dibble owns a 4th generation family farm consisting of a 1,200-head feedlot operation and 650 acres of cropland used to feed the operation.

A little closer to home for Gentec, Cherie Copithorne-Barnes, CEO of CL Ranches (and new addition to the Gentec Management Advisory Board) welcomed Dina Ottoni Battistessa of @move.play.mom. Like Dibbhurst Farms, CL Ranches is a 4th generation family ranch, operating as a cow/calf, backgrounding and custom-farming operation. Dina arrived with her father and two children.

Combined, the video clips of the farm tours and the conference session provided an interesting and, at times, surprising take on how perceptions differed from reality. The guests mentioned numerous times how information in online documentaries and from friends differed so significantly from what they were seeing and hearing on the ranch. They were particularly surprised at attention and effort put into ensuring the health and welfare of the animals; the quality of the food provided to them; and the commitment of the producers to sustainable production. The latter was evidenced on both operations through their focus on clean water, soil health and nutrients, and—on Gordon’s operation—barns outfitted with geothermal heating capability, LED lighting for minimal energy usage, and natural ventilation.

And the poop—so conveniently left out of the Wall Street Journal article—comes back into the picture. Even the children were able to piece the cycle together where the grass is cycled through the cow: some goes into making beef, some comes out the other end and is used by the soil, as nature intended, to create more healthy grass to perpetuate the cycle. The producers also explained how bulk manure is collected and spread across the land to ensure a natural, sustainable farming environment.

Apryl was surprised at Gordon being younger than her; Dina, that one of the ranchers was female; and both by the fact that the food was produced in a family (not factory) setting in modern, clean, and productive systems, not Old MacDonald’s rickety, spider’s-webby Farm, and that the producers had an emotional attachment to their animals and provided them with the best care possible thus ensuring the health of their cows and the resulting food. Clearly, there is work yet to be done in informing the public.

All that said, the Wall Street Journal and the CBIC profiles did agree that, whether they experience a “farmcore” or actual “farm-life” lifestyle, these “kids see things that most kids will never see or understand”. In a lighter moment, for example, one of Dina’s children asked Cherie if the bulls were there to protect the cows. Cherie responded that they were not, and that the cows were meaner than the bulls anyway.  The camera then panned to the fireplace crackling in the corner of the room as the scene faded to black… Hopefully, Mom explained the true function of the bulls on the drive back to Calgary.

Cherie summed up the divergence between the presentations best. In terms of getting accurate information out to a wider audience, you want to highlight the best aspects of ranch life and beef production but you must also be willing to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly … and to defend the “necessary ugly”. You have to be prepared to be honest. Additionally, many producers and producer organizations just talk about opening their farms to visitors. Cherie feels she gets the most out of her time by volunteering for organizations (such as the Calgary Stampede) where she has access to a million people to whom she could never show her farm, thus allowing her the chance to talk about beef and the science behind it.

Where is the beef….future?

by William Torres, former Research Manager at Cattleland Feedyards


Bloomberg reported on December 17, 2021, that Tyson, the largest US meat company has invested in a startup (Future Meat Technologies) to make cell-grown chicken and beef. This news makes me wonder where the future of our industry is headed.

From a business perspective, Tyson is looking at its long-term strategies and diversifying its portfolio. However, what message is the company sending to producers in North America?

Well, just like the automotive industry considered the implications of fuel alternatives for vehicles, packers need to consider how they’re going to meet the global demands for protein. If traditional protein can’t be sourced in some parts of the world, maybe a “hybrid” model can fill that gap.

I’ve only consumed beef alternatives probably three times in my life, only to be as disappointed (as I expected). Growing up in a household of carnivores, our definition of beef alternative was pork or chicken. What worries me is that if “we”, the traditional industry, don’t stay engaged, companies like Tyson, Memphis Meats, Future Meat, Beyond Meat, Field Roast, etc., will run their course without knowing what it takes to make cell-based alternatives a palatable choice. We don’t know if scientists have any knowledge of or background in cattle genetics, and how cross-breeding can turn a good steak into a great steak. I mean, do they understand marbling and tenderness? And how some producers work for generations selecting the right genetics to achieve that desirable carcass that packers and consumers are looking for?

Our great industry will never disappear because, let’s face it, no-one raves about how awesome a lab-grown meat-LIKE patty is; and meat consumption worldwide continues to increase along with the global population. Unless these companies can also grow bone in the lab, consumers will never have the same bone-in-rib eye experience.

So what’s the answer? Maybe we should help these companies understand that the right selection of genetics is the foundation of their future. After all, if it’s “cell-grown”, they must source those cells from real animals—animals that will continue to be selected, bred, raised, and slaughtered. In a video promoting lab meat, the host asks, “Are animals really necessary to consume protein?” Well, Yes. These proteins need starter cells that must be sourced somehow.

I mentioned staying engaged. Here are some of the opportunities I see:

• Think about whether your operation wants to be the source of these cells;
• Guide the next generation to study genetics from an alternative market view;
• Start a cell bank;
• Lobby for our right to have a say;
• Become an ambassador and help educate the public;
• Become a certified sustainable operation;
• Tell our story;
• Etc., etc.

The public consumes many alternatives to other animal products, such as soy milk, almond milk, sunflower seed butter, almond butter, soy butter, and dairy-free cheese but the original items are still around.

Cattle are an essential part of our ecosystem. How we participate in the future of our industry is in our hands. We can either fuss about it and ignore it or we can guide, advise and be at the table. As GI Joe said, “Knowing is half the battle”.