Why Value Systems are the Solution for the Ontario Beef Industry


Ontario does not produce enough beef to satisfy consumer demand. In 2012 there were 626,598 beef animals harvested in Ontario plants for a total of 522,672,012 lbs on a carcass basis. The population of Ontario in 2012 was 13,445,408 and consumed 814,791,725 lbs of beef on a carcass equivalent.

There is a huge amount of beef imported from the USA, and smaller amounts imported from other countries. Total imported beef into Ontario during 2012 was 401,472,267 lbs with a value of $1,151,731,371.

There are a significant number of consumers who want to support their "local" farmers and they need to be able to quickly identify "Ontario" beef. In order to increase the consumption of "Ontario" beef, it must be consumer demand that pulls it through. A push by producers will not work unless they can supply a better product at a lower price.

Value Systems Could Satisfy Consumer Needs

The population of Ontario is very diverse, with a large variation amongst groups of consumers. Consumers could be grouped as follows:

  1. Quality conscious consumers who are looking for tenderness and taste where marbling is an important component with a desire for AAA and Prime product.
  2. Health conscious consumers who are seeking lean meat. Tenderness is still a concern but having it lean is the most important attribute for this group.
  3. Attribute-specific consumers who are seeking particular characteristics which can include local, no added hormones, etc. This group is made up of many smaller sub-groups and would overlap with the above two groups.

With consumers having various needs, there would have to be a number of value systems developed to meet the needs that were considered viable. All consumers are price conscious to some degree. There are a significant number of consumers who will pay a premium over commodity beef, if the product fits their needs. In a value system, this premium would be shared amongst the partners involved in the production of the product.

A Value System Provides a Plan for the Industry

From a bird's eye view, the beef industry appears to be disorganized, particularly when compared to other industries such as poultry and pork. Looking down into pastures or into pens of feedlot cattle, there are cattle of all colours and shapes, even in the same field and/or pen. In an attempt to have a degree of uniformity, calves going to auction marts are usually split into relatively small lots.

The power of genetic improvement would be a key component in producing specification beef. A value system would have a production protocol that would include a genetic plan, and those cow herds involved in a value system would abide by the genetic program as part of the protocol for the Ontario branded product. A plan based on a value system would have a much different structure than is currently in place with the beef industry in Ontario.

Complete Traceability

A value system would be based on a complete traceability system that provides for identification of meat back to an individual animal. This traceability system will gain consumer confidence, as DNA could be used to verify that a cut of meat came from a specific animal. This system of verification would be a huge differentiation from commodity beef, or any other beef which makes claims, but is not able to back it up with complete traceability.

Sharing Information

A traceability system provides a network for sharing information with the various components of the value chain. This information would be used to find efficiencies in the value system through improving genetics and refining the protocol. In addition to improving efficiency, the information would also be used to improve the quality of the product, such as tenderness, but most importantly consistency.

Sustainable Production

A value system will result in the production of a consistent product; find efficiencies, and improve the product. The end result is an industry that has some direction and is profitable. This will not only add stability to those participating in the value system but attract new people to participate in the industry.

For more information:
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E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca