Recent History – 2000
Oct. 13, 2000
By Brenda Birley for PRASPS
DAWSON CREEK — With organic cattle producers on both sides of the British Columbia – Alberta boarder, the Peace region could be capable of supplying beef to the steadily increasing demand for organic food.
On average, certified organic beef sells for 30 per cent more than conventional beef. Unfortunately, a lack of co-ordinated marketing has many organic producers selling on the conventional market.
“Without a market in place it is easier to avoid the extra paper work involved in certifying cattle and just sell conventionally,” said organic beef producer Kit Fearon of Bonanza, Alta.
“Many Peace Region producers could certify beef but they lack the skills or the desire to do their own marketing.”
For Fearon and her husband, developing their own market became a huge time commitment.
“We wanted to get organic beef into the stores without a huge mark-up so that the average person could afford it; that meant bypassing the distributor,” she said. She started by attending high quality trade shows in major cities. From there, Fearon went every where she could think of that would market organic beef.
The hard work paid off and now they have a fairly steady market.
“But, we still can’t slack off,” said Fearon. “We are very vulnerable because we are only selling to a few sources.”
In her attempt to gain new contracts, supply became a reoccurring problem.
“One distributor was very interested in our beef, but they wanted 500 animals finished all at the same time, no single producer here could supply that demand.”
Consistency in the finished product is as important as quantity in maintaining contracts. Every shipment must have the same grade, quality and size product. “If an outlet agrees to buy a 1,200 pound animal because they want six pound steaks, they are not going to be happy with a 1,600 pound animal, and they will look for a new supplier,” explained Fearon.
“If we, in the Peace, want to break into the larger market we are eventually going to have to have a single selling desk, a feed lot,” said Fearon. Members of the Peace River Organic Producer’s Association (PROPA) have been trying for years to organize an Organic Feedlot. “Most members are cow and calf operators, that is how they are set up and that is how they like it, it is difficult to find somebody interested in finishing,” said Marina Buchan, PROPA Co-ordinator.
Finishing cattle to the point of sale requires more money for infrastructure, processing and packaging. It also involves an enormous commitment. In order to sell to a distributor or large food outlet, an organic producer must also be able to provide a consistent supply of beef 365 days out of the year.
While few organic producers in the Peace Region are certifying and marketing organic beef, there is great potential.
“People are really interested in our products, we have the expertise, but we need to move from cow calf operations into finishing. We have to stop sending our beef out as commodities,” said Buchan. “We need to work together.”