What kind of advice can an Angus breeder in the Maritimes give to a breeder in Manitoba? If their management practices are similar enough, they might be about to find out.
Participating long-term breeders will be paired off with industry newcomers this summer after the Canadian Angus Association launched its national mentorship program June 10.
“This isn’t one where perhaps you qualify, perhaps you don’t,” association CEO Rob Smith said. “It isn’t one that has a fee associated with it. It is as simple as, if you want someone to help provide you with management expertise, spiritual guidance, the way forward to help you become one of those greatest Angus and seedstock producers in the country, we will help to put you with someone who can help you take those initial steps and maybe even those further steps.”
The association has said the program will support breeders during their critical first five years, increase social ties within the membership and provide member resources to support long-term health of the industry.
Nathan Marin, CAA new-generation breeder development director, says operational matches will be prioritized over distance between farms, although the association hopes farm visits will be possible.
“It’s basically just a resource for young breeders to go down the road that they want to go down,” Marin said. “If there’s maybe somebody who’s a little more interested in, say, grass-fed cattle, low-energy-type cattle, we’ll try and match them up with somebody who’s running the same program. If there’s somebody maybe a little more focused on the show side of things, who is interested in showing cattle, going down that road, (we’ll) just be trying to hook them up with somebody who’s maybe a little more skilled or a little more focused, themselves, in that part of the industry.”
The program will include professional development workshops and resources for up-and-coming breeders.
Mentors will also be given guidance on what knowledge and experience might be helpful to pass on, the association has said.
Participation is currently limited to association members, although Smith has said he hopes to eventually open it to commercial producers.
“We recognize the, not only responsibility, but the obligation that Canadian Angus has to play in our national herd and in support of our national cattlemen,” he said.
A 2016 study by Canfax on behalf of the association estimates that between 64 and 67 per cent of Canada’s cow herd is at least half Angus.
The mentorship program has its roots in 2011, when then Manitoba CAA director Lois McRae pointed to a programming gap between junior and senior breeders. A bridge for producers 20 to 40 years old would be beneficial, she argued.
“People are in school or they’re really beginning their careers. They’re beginning their families and their lives are, perhaps, more complex than they are at any other time of their lives,” Smith said.
McRae’s idea percolated over the next years and, in 2016, the association decided enough resources were in place to develop the concept.
The program began taking definite form after an October 2016 workshop, which invited breeders in the target demographic to share feedback and priorities.
“I’m just super excited and I think it will really help encourage those new members or new breeders who are kind of unsure what next steps to take or who to talk to,” Carmen Koning, CAA member value team leader, said. “We’ll help to be able to facilitate and foster those relationships and give them that avenue to ask those questions and get that advice and gain that kind of education for the success of their operations.”
The focus on mentorship has, at least partly, been driven by a sudden increase in membership.
The jump ends a five-year declining trend. From 2010 to 2015, membership fell from 2,634 to 2,225, recovering to 2,346 in 2016.
The association also hit a six-year record in registered cattle in 2016. About 62,400 calves were registered last year, up from 55,400 in 2010. Transfers fell to 21,200 in 2016 from 21,700 the year before. Smith noted, however, that bull transfers had remained largely the same, and attributed the drop to members keeping their registered females. This has fed into herd increases, he said.
The association plans to pursue a brief needs assessment with each of its new members over the next year and will include information on the mentorship program.
The program is still in its first stages, Marin said, although CAA members have expressed some interest.
“It happens right now,” he said. “There are young people who go to older breeders right now and get advice from them all the time. I’ve got lots of friends in the industry my age who have been doing that with older, successful, breeders forever. There’s maybe just some younger folks who are new to this industry who, maybe, don’t have access to those people.”
The program launch was part of the 2017 Canadian Angus Association national convention in Brandon June 8-11.