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:
- Greenhouse gas and carbon sequestration
- Land use and biodiversity
- Water and soil quality
- Animal health and care
- People health and safety
- Beef quality and food safety
- 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.
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.