There is a niche market in Saskatchewan for beef production on native prairie that also protects species at risk, and the Prairie Provides logo can help ranchers to connect with those consumers.
This logo was created through a partnership between the South of the Divide Conservation Action Program (SODCAP) Inc. and the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association (SSGA).
According to SODCAP Executive Director Tom Harrison the creation of the Prairie Provides logo is an outcome of a broader initiative that started several years ago.
“We wanted to look at a number of programming options to encourage cow-calf producers to conserve species at risk habitat on native grassland in southwest Saskatchewan,” he said.
They considered several options, including the development of a niche marketing product that can give recognition to the environmental stewardship of beef producers who want to directly market their beef to consumers.
Most branding initiatives for beef will take place at the end of the supply chain, when the product is marketed to consumers.
“Very seldom does that cow-calf producer get any of that trickle-down effect or trickle-down benefit from any kind of sale of brand or product,” he said. “So we were thinking this is going to be a really niche market where a producer is direct marketing beef, but he's also sourcing those calves directly from the habitat that support species at risk as well.”
The Prairie Provides logo can therefore be used as a tool for producers who are directly marketing their beef to consumers and it can also serve as an incentive for species at risk conservation.
The logo basically indicates that beef was sourced from an operation where cattle is raised on native prairie alongside species at risk.
The use of this logo will only be allowed after a producer has signed a habitat management agreement and after the availability of species at risk habitat has been verified.
SODCAP and SSGA have completed the pilot project to develop this logo, during which they worked with two producers who market their beef directly to consumers. The one livestock operation is located in the Consul area and the other is in the Mortlach area.
“So they're verified and now they can use this as a marketing tool to showcase their beef,” he said.
The pilot project included the creation of a video about the Mortlach area producer, Bluestone Stock Farms, to highlight their operation and protection of species at risk habitat.
Harrison noted that this has been a very innovative initiative to develop the Prairie Provides logo in Saskatchewan.
“I think we're pretty much on the cutting edge out here,” he said.
Their intention will therefore be to continue with the implementation of the logo and to make it available to other producers, but details will still have to be worked out, including the issue of funding.
“We're hoping that we will continue to do this, and I think there's a lot of interest in expanding this program,” he said.
He felt the cooperation between SODCAP and SSGA is essential to ensure the success of such a branding initiative.
“Ranchers are key to any kind of environmental stewardship that you find out there,” he said. “We're very much about promoting the producer angle on this thing, being that the Stock Growers are involved and being that we're a producer-based, bottom-up kind of organization. We want to make sure that the grassroots producers are recognized for their work.”
They did some surveys with producers and found there certainly is interest from ranchers with cow-calf operations to market their beef directly to consumers.
“It's going to be a handful of producers that want to actually direct market, because it's a little bit of extra work than just selling your calves in the fall at the auction barn or through other selling auctions,” he said. “So it's going to be a specialty thing, but there are more and more producers that are coming to us that are interested in this.”
The use of the Prairie Provides logo will only be feasible if there is a consumer demand for beef that helps to conserve native prairie and species at risk. SSGA commissioned a study earlier this year to determine the perceptions of Saskatchewan consumers about farmer direct beef.
The online survey was carried out by Insightrix Research, a Saskatoon based survey company. The survey was completed by 1,000 Saskatchewan residents in February 2020.
The survey findings indicate that about one fifth of beef consumers will purchase specialty beef, which refers to meat products with special marketing claims about the environment.
Most of these consumers (74 per cent) are willing to pay a premium for specialty beef, and 65 per cent want to support the conservation of species at risk in the native prairie with their purchase. This indicates there is a niche market for this type of beef in the province.