Building value and trust: The value of VBP+ certification

Emma Cross

For beef producers, time is money. From the cow-calf sector to the feedlot, producers don’t have time to spare on things that don’t offer practical benefit. Fortunately, VBP+ certification provides those benefits, beginning with dollars and cents.

At first glance, VBP+ certification may seem daunting. Certified producers have to keep detailed records and spend time aligning their management practices with program requirements. However, many of the required practices can actually improve profitability.

With some practices, the return on investment is easy to see. For example, meeting the nutritional requirements of your cattle is integral to achieving the peak performance that gets you more pounds, and in turn, more dollars to your deposits.

For other requirements, the economic value might be buried a little deeper. Take the treatment record as an example. To some, taking the time to write down details regarding individual and group treatments may seem like a cost. However, knowing when and how you treated an animal can help you monitor its response to treatment and adjust your next steps accordingly, preventing you from wasting expensive veterinary products and helping you get that animal back to better performance sooner. This means saving on costs and avoiding further losses to income.

VBP+ certification can also add dollars to your bottom line on the revenue side. With the right marketing, the VBP+ certified stamp allows you the opportunity to access a premium on cattle sold to suppliers specifically looking to source cattle from VBP+ operations, or other similar programs. On October 7, Walmart Canada committed to purchasing 1.5 million pounds of beef sourced from operations certified under the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB). Since VBP+ is a certification body for CRSB, VBP+ certified operations get access to price premiums under this stream that they would forego without certification. As more operations get certified, this opportunity will only continue to grow.

A template of a certification card to accompany your cattle listed under the VBP+ program. Print your own here.
A template of a certification card to accompany your cattle listed under the VBP+ program. Print your own here.

Furthermore, several grants are available to producers implementing best management practices to receive funding back on new infrastructure that can make your operation more efficient and better suited to meeting program requirements. At the end of the day, investing the time, and sometimes money, to meet VBP+ certification requirements can mean more cash in your jeans when all is said and done.

While the bottom line tends to underscore all producer decisions, there’s value to VBP+ certification that can’t be counted. Over recent years, we’ve seen increased public criticism of animal agriculture. Social media and news outlets are channels for messaging that paints a dim picture of animal care and environmental responsibility. While producers might know that their practices don’t fit the dialogue circulating amongst consumers, sometimes the voice of agriculture isn’t loud enough to overcome it. Luckily, VBP+ certification can serve as our megaphone.

VBP+ certification is a concrete stamp showing stakeholders both within and outside of the beef industry that your operation upholds standards in areas that the public prioritizes, like animal care, food quality and safety, and environmental stewardship. A contracted third-party auditor visits your operation and validates the required practices you employ on your operation. Many of these requirements are things that most producers already do on-farm, but getting certified helps you prove your commitment to key program values in an unbiased way.

For producers that direct-market beef, VBP+ certification is an objective stamp of approval that consumers can look for when choosing a product. As with selling cattle under the VBP+ program, this can offer price premiums to enhance producer profit. Later in the supply chain, feedlots and processors have started to look for more cattle to fill the demand from retailers for sustainable beef that matches consumer desires. Increasing rates of certification across the Canadian beef industry will help spread the message of producer commitment to values shared by consumers. In turn, enhanced social support for our industry will foster longevity for beef demand.

From the ground level, VBP+ certification can be a way to put more dollars in your pocket. In the big picture, certified producers contribute to securing broad consumer demand for beef, maintaining the strength of our industry into the future.

To learn more about the certification cycle, click here.

A little learning goes a long way: The value in VBP+ training

Emma Cross

While certification is an important way that VBP+ contributes to helping beef producers improve their practices and enhance public trust, training is not just a first step towards the goal of an audit. Instead, training itself holds value for both the producer and the broader industry.

In the beef industry and beyond, knowledge is not static. As beef producers, our practices are constantly changing to keep up with new technology, changing regulations, emerging research, and consumer expectations. While there are plenty of resources out there to keep up to speed, training is one of the best ways to access up to date information across a variety of topics in a format targeted towards producers.

At home, most of our information comes from articles, social media posts, and other quick reference material. While these are convenient and useful to stay informed about the beef industry, they usually only cover one topic and can’t achieve the level of detail that a producer needs to implement new practices. In contrast, in VBP+ training, attendees learn about each of the VBP+ modules, covering everything from animal management practices to demonstrating community leadership.

Fortunately, VBP+ training is convenient and voluntary. Producers can access online modules or attend in-person sessions or webinars delivered by provincial coordinators. As a result, trainees benefit from being able to ask questions directly to VBP+ coordinators and can access them as resources to discuss regionally specific topics. Therefore, producers leave training with the best opportunity for continuous improvement on their own operation.

Training also contributes to securing social support for the industry. In the United States, the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program offers several training courses for producers across different industry sectors. Much like VBP+, producers can be trained in the modules required for BQA certification from the comfort of home. Additionally, producers can learn more with other courses like the hands-on Stockmanship and Stewardship workshop or the online Biosecurity advanced education module. BQA also has Transportation courses for both producers and professional drivers. This training has helped enhance and maintain strong beef demand in the US by demonstrating to consumers that producers are using responsible practices on-farm.

In Canada, VBP+ training helps serve the same purpose. For producers that direct market beef to consumers, communicating a VBP+ trained status assures clients of knowledge and commitment to using responsible practices. However, even for producers that never speak directly to the consumers that eat beef originating from their operation, VBP+ training contributes to a positive dialogue surrounding the beef industry across the country.

In a survey conducted by Loft 32 for VBP+ amongst retailers, food service leaders, processors, and amplifiers, one restaurant leader stated, “The need for training is critical and will continue to grow. It’s in our company mandate to foster and share best practices, and we expect the same from our supply chain partners.” Increasing rates of training amongst beef producers will provide industry advocates with data to show policymakers and food industry stakeholders tangible evidence of industry commitment to issues that they prioritize. That is, for the beef industry to stay relevant and strong in an agri-food context, training is key.

Public trust in animal agriculture has been damaged by messaging circulating on social media and through news outlets. If training rates across the country increase, this messaging can change to recognize the commitment of Canadian beef producers to consumer priorities like animal care and environmental stewardship.

In 2021, the Canadian Beef Advisors finished its release of seven national industry goals targeted for achievement by 2030. These goals build upon five-year objectives set out in the 2020-2024 National Beef Strategy, and cover the following topics:

  1. Greenhouse gas and carbon sequestration
  2. Land use and biodiversity
  3. Water and soil quality
  4. Animal health and care
  5. People health and safety
  6. Beef quality and food safety
  7. Technology and innovation

Notably, these focus areas overlap substantially with several VBP+ training modules. As a result, producers can become better equipped to support industry progress towards the 2030 Canadian Beef Industry Goals by participating in VBP+ training to support continuous improvement on-farm.

A visual overview of the 2030 Canadian Beef Industry Goals
A visual overview of the 2030 Canadian Beef Industry Goals

For example, producers that become VBP+ trained are contributing to positive consumer dialogue around the quality and sustainability of Canadian beef. This effort directly contributes to establishing “the inherent quality and value of Canadian beef in domestic and export markets”, which is one of the specific objectives outlined under the beef quality and food safety topic area.

In general, training contributes to the continuous improvement of beef operations, offering value to individual producers as they enhance the productivity and longevity of their own operations. On a broader scale, widespread training enhances public messaging about animal agriculture, generating a supportive consumer base to keep the beef industry going long into the future.

Learn more about VBP+ training here.

Exchanging value from east to west: Marketing in sustainable beef supply chains

Emma Cross

One of the benefits of becoming VBP+ certified is the opportunity to market cattle into supply chains sourcing from operations audited for sustainable practices. In return for the opportunity to label their products with this stamp of approval, processors and retailers may offer producers a price premium on their cattle. Furthermore, certified producers have access to buyers that source from a smaller group of operations that adhere to their standards, giving them better access to more sale opportunities.

VBP+ is also a third party auditor for the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB). This means that VBP+ certified producers can market their cattle within the Certified Sustainable Beef Framework, which includes supply chains leading to major retailers like McDonald’s, Walmart, and more.

Opportunities to market cattle into these streams exist across the country. From the Maritimes in the east to British Columbia in the west, processors actively seek out VBP+ producers to provide them with the extra value that comes with certified cattle.

In the Maritimes, Atlantic Beef Products Inc. sources all its product from PEI Certified Beef Producers. Along with specific program requirements, they recommend that their producers be registered under Verified Beef Production Plus. The program relies on values like animal care, environmental stewardship, and food safety and quality, all of which align with VBP+ requirements.

Just to the west in Quebec, Meyer Natural Foods also takes pride in working with VBP+ producers. “Meyer Natural Foods holds the highest standard when it comes to humane handling,” says Scott Coakley, Head of the Procurement Team for Meyer Natural Foods. “Meyer has partnered with the VBP+ program. Both Meyer and VBP+ standards meet or exceed the human standards that the industry is looking for. Meyer is a strong supporter of VBP+ and is looking forward to working together in the coming year.”

These sourcing opportunities demonstrate processors’ response to changing industry standards, leading producers to markets that reward them for evolving over time. Luckily, producers can be granted value beyond additional marketing opportunities.

True North Foods of Manitoba offers a consistent price premium for cattle that meet the requirements for their grass fed program. This comes out to a 20 cent premium above current market bid.

Duane Vaags, Grass Fed Beef Program Auditor for True North Foods, expressed how easy it is for VBP+ certified producers to integrate into this program. “I have always been impressed with VBP+ producers and how the program runs,” says Vaags. “They are very prepared and have all their documentation ready to go.”

For True North Foods, documentation is especially important, since their program relies on traceability via RFID tags. Additionally, the animal welfare component of their program aligns with animal health and care standards adhered to by VBP+ producers. So, being certified with VBP+ is an easy ticket to accessing price premiums like this one.

A well-known name encouraging producer participation in sustainable beef supply chains is Cargill. Working from CRSB’s Certified Sustainable Beef Framework, Cargill developed the Canadian Beef Sustainability Acceleration pilot to offer some value back to producers throughout the chain. For cattle that are raised and fed entirely on VBP+ certified operations and go on for slaughter at Cargill, each producer along the supply chain is eligible to receive a credit. These premiums have reached up to $20 per head.

In Alberta, Sendero Limited manages the chain of custody for Harmony Beef, sourcing cattle that qualify for CRSB’s Certified Sustainable Beef Framework. Like other processors, Harmony Beef can offer a price premium on qualifying cattle. We talked to Virgil Lowe, CEO of Sendero Limited, to dig into what drives this supply chain.

“End user demand is driving Sendero and Harmony Beef to work together to source CSB Certified cattle,” says Lowe. “Supplying CSB Certified beef enables restaurants and retailers to tell a positive story about the beef industry to their customers.”

Regardless of geography, processors’ interest in sourcing cattle from supply chains with standards for animal care and health, environmental stewardship, and food safety is a constant. With these same standards, VBP+ can help producers continue to access a broad consumer base well into the future.