Students take sustainable beef practices to the bank

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September 10, 2019
An $18.52 cheque caused excitement among Lakeland College animal science technology (AST) students earlier this year.
Students involved in the commercial beef unit of the Student-Managed Farm – Powered by New Holland (SMF) received the payment in March after an animal they sold was processed through certified sustainable operations of the beef supply chain. That triggered Lakeland’s first cheque through the Canadian Beef Sustainability Acceleration Pilot, which is an initiative led by Cargill, according to Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB) sustainability standards. Since then, Lakeland has received a second cheque covering animals processed in June of 2019.
“Receiving the cheque is validation of the process we completed to operationalize sustainability and traceability programs at Lakeland College,” says Bevin Hamilton, program head of the AST program at the Vermilion campus.  
It was a process that began a few years ago after AST program advisory committee members recommended that Lakeland become more involved in sustainable beef programs.
“We talked about these programs in class, but hadn’t done anything on our Student-Managed Farm. Having livestock enterprises that our students manage, we can let our students get involved and implement the programs. That’s what we decided to do,” says Hamilton. 
In September 2017, work began to attain Verified Beef Production Plus (VBP+) certification. Three students led the process, doing online training and workshops, filling in the VBP+ enrolment form and completing a self-assessment. An on-site audit was also completed by VBP+ officials. In the spring 2018, Lakeland became the first post-secondary institution in Alberta to receive VBP+ certification, proof that Lakeland’s SMF reflects the highest standards for food safety, animal care and environmental stewardship. The VBP+ certification is recognized by the CRSB, and aligns directly with CRSB’s Sustainable Beef Production Standard. Now when producers are certified by VBP+, they are also certified to CRSB standards through a single streamlined process, and eligible to take advantage of programs like the sustainable sourcing one being led by Cargill. Last fall, students entered age verification information on calves from the commercial beef herd into the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) system and provided the Business Infoxchange System (TrustBIX) with their CCIA account number and along with their permission to share data. TrustBIX then is able to track the age verified calves along with verification that they have come from a VBP+ certified herd, which is the basis for payments under the Cargill Pilot program. 
“CRSB commends Lakeland College for their commitment to educating students about, and participating in, industry programs that demonstrate value to producers in the beef value chain, and providing them the hands-on experience to take back to their family farms or into the workforce throughout the Canadian agricultural community,” says Anne Wasko, beef producer from Eastend, SK and Chair of the CRSB. “Through their membership in the CRSB, Lakeland engages with stakeholders across the beef value chain and beyond, which enhances their students’ educational experience, and contributes to the sustainability of the beef industry for future generations.”
Having students lead Lakeland’s sustainable beef efforts is key, says Geoff Brown, associate dean of Lakeland’s School of Agricultural Sciences
“We’re exposing 60 to 70 students every year to these programs so when they go back to their farm or work elsewhere in the industry, they have working knowledge of these programs. When their parents or a co-worker says these sustainable beef programs will never work, our students can say, ‘Yes they do, and we got the cheque to prove it’ and ultimately spur on conversations,” he says.
“More consumers are demanding sustainably-sourced beef and programs like this that demonstrate industry’s commitment to supporting producers for investing in sustainable practices. When value is distributed back along various stages of the chain, it becomes more appealing for producers and other partners to be involved. Our students got to see that there is a payoff and I think that’s huge. Now they’ll be trying to figure out how to get more cattle to qualify for the program.”
Michelle Duckworth, a Class of 2019 animal science technology graduate, is already seeing the payoff of this initiative. She’s now the cattle manager at L-7 Land & Cattle Inc., a company that is VBP+ certified and participates in the CRSB program.
“Having the opportunity to learn and implement these programs at Lakeland gave the practical experience that has allowed me to start my career off strong. I believe that programs like these are putting us ahead of the game and will one day be the industry standard as sustainable beef is the future.”  
Photo: Bevin Hamilton (back row, far left) poses with the students involved in the SMF commercial beef unit who received Lakeland’s first cheque through the Canadian Beef Sustainability Acceleration Pilot, including (back row, left to right) Josh Arnold, Morgan Attrux and Keegan Miller, as well as (front row, left to right) Michelle Duckworth, Loralee Ryan, Mikayla Blaschuk and Hayley Clark.