“It all comes down to data,” explained Shannon Argent, manager of Canada’s Verified Beef Plus Production Plus (VBP+), during the BIF Producer Applications breakout session at the 2023 Beef Improvement Federation Annual Symposium in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. During her presentation on Tuesday, July 4, she discussed the value of Canada’s VBP+ program in educating, benchmarking, and certifying sustainable practices in the Canadian beef industry.
“We’re always striving to continuously improve,” she said. “We can’t see where we are or where we want to go without knowing where we’ve been. And when we do that, we see that we have a really good story to tell.”
Argent started by discussing multi-stakeholder sustainability initiatives in Canada that have come together to define sustainability for the country’s beef industry. These groups operate as the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB). The CRSB has defined pillars essential to wholistic beef industry sustainability: “Natural resources, people & the community, animal health & welfare, food, and efficiency & innovation, all of which are underlined by economic viability.”
She explained the two main ways that the CRSB defined and communicated sustainability. First, through a National Beef Sustainability Assessment that looks at the overall industry’s implementation of sustainable best practices. The second is through CRSB-certified products. This third-party audited program ensures that the entire supply chain integrates sustainable practice standards that reflect the five pillars of sustainability. This label claim allows producers to receive compensation from consumers interested in purchasing a sustainable product.
She spoke specifically about VBP+ and its role in sustainability practices in Canada, “VBP+ has two main activity streams,” she explained. “The first involves training workshops on best management practices and the data recording that enables certification and recording.”
Argent described VBP’s important data aggregation role. “When it comes to informing evidence-based policy, VBP+ provides the on-farm evidence for discussion.”
VBP has more than 1,355 operations certified, allowing real-time monitoring of on-farm adoption of management practices. She also underlined the strong relationship that VBP+ has with the Canadian Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC), which helps provide extension support.
Data collection and aggregation are critical to the effectiveness of these sustainability-verified programs, and VBP+ has built an extensive infrastructure to collect and handle producer-generated data. Data aggregation allows auditors to collect anonymous data which will drive policy decisions based on the real actions occurring on-farm.
Argent summed up how VBP+ Inc. acts as the certification services arm of VBP+, “VBP+ Inc. certifies and quantifies the standard that VBP+ maintains.”
The program has a five-year audit cycle. This starts with an on-farm audit in year one, followed by records assessments in years two and four, and self-declarations of practices in years three and five. More than 1.7 million head are under the management of sustainability-certified operations, 363,000 of which are from the cow-calf sector. These animals are under the management of 1,355 certified operations.
Argent described VBP’s dual role as a certifier and educator, “We provide a robust risk-based corrective action process and a producer scorecard for audits. This allows producers to see how their practices stack up against other operations and opportunities to improve.”
Argent closed her discussion, emphasizing the importance of everyone using data to drive decisions and policy. “Encouraging producers to use data to make informed management decisions, and us as an industry using data responsibly to prove to governments and the world what our sustainability looks like.”