Grass-fed Beef Certification Launched

By:  Philip Moscovitch. FCC

The Nova Scotia government is hoping the province’s beef producers will be able to sell their products under a certified grass-fed beef label.

They are currently conducting research on forage-raised beef, and are looking to get approval from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for a grass-fed protocol by early 2014.

According to provincial agriculture minister John MacDonnell, Nova Scotia’s beef producers have typically run cow-calf — and not finishing — operations.

“In Nova Scotia we can grow grass, and we can do it well,” MacDonnell says. “We produce good-quality forages and you can actually finish beef cattle on good-quality forage — without having to haul grain great distances. I call it our grass advantage.”

The provincial beef industry has never fully recovered from the BSE crisis, and the government hopes the new certification will allow producers a way to command a premium for their beef.

The province has set up a test pasture with a herd of 30 animals. According to Department of Agriculture regional co-ordinator Kevin Bekkers, the project was designed to test factors such as carcass prediction, soil health, rotational grazing and stocking density for pastures. Nutritional analysis and taste tests are also being done, but the results aren’t in yet.

The goal, according to MacDonnell, is for the province to “have a program we can take to producers and say, ‘We think you can do this and make money at it.'”

A couple of years ago, Nova Scotia cattle producer John Tilley was among a group of farmers to attend Cornell University’s annual Winter Green-Up Grass-Fed Grazing Conference. He says the conference led some farmers to recognize the importance “of a differentiated beef product. The idea being if we are commodity producers we are not going to find a niche in the marketplace.

We are competing on cost with producers in Ontario and Alberta who have large operations and easier access to grain.”

He adds, “Nova Scotia can grow grass almost better than anyone else in the world. When you put all those pieces together, you can see why the government has an interest in bringing a focus to grass-fed beef.”

Tilley is not sure if he will pursue certification.

“We’d have to look at the system and look at the numbers and see if our land and the way we’re set up would allow us to do that,” he says. But he does think “it would be a definite advantage in the marketplace. Take what happened in the organic industry. A few years ago you could proclaim yourself organic. Then standards came in, and they’re enforced.”

But beef farmer Terry Prescott, the chair of the Nova Scotia Cattle Producers, is a bit more skeptical.

“Our biggest concern is the limitations it might create. We also don’t know what the protocols are going to entail — how strict they’re going to be,” Prescott points out.

While Prescott estimates that only five to 10 per cent of the province’s cattle producers will seek certification, he also says “any additional markets for us are a good thing. The government is going ahead, working the bugs out, doing all the testing. You’d be a fool not to support that.”