The new chair of Alberta Beef Producers is a former veterinarian from Beauvallon, which is south of St. Paul. Melanie Wowk also worked out of a practice in Vermilion for three years before retiring and joined Alberta Beef Producers as a delegate six years ago.
“I was kind of looking for something else to do and wanting to give back a little bit because I finally had time. It was weird not being on call anymore. So I thought Alberta Beef was a good fit, I love the industry and when I was in practice it was cow-calf,” said Wowk.
She said when she first joined, part of the appeal was to learn where her checkoff dollars were going and what they actually do.
Checkoff dollars are the $4.50 charge on each head of cattle sold from which $2.50 goes to national organizations like Canada Beef and the Beef Cattle Research Council. Two dollars then goes to provincial organizations like the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and Alberta Beef Producers, but if producers choose to request it back they can receive a refund.
“Right now about 43 per cent of the money that comes in is refunded. A lot of that goes to the larger feedlots, they get that money back. And so we work with what we bring in, but we’re really trying to increase our visibility, increase people’s understanding of what ABP does and have them understand that 53 cents of every marketing that comes in we have to forward to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and so the people that pull that money out, that leaves the rest of us that leave our money in covering that deficit,” said Wowk.
She said as part of educating their producers about how the checkoff money is spent, Alberta Beef Producers have changed their marketing strategy and their communication strategy in the hope that people will find value in keeping their dollars there and supporting the beef industry.
With that in mind, they’ve launched a new website with information about cattle markets, industry innovations, and issues as well as a magazine for producers.
“That was something that our producers always brought up that they felt our communication wasn’t up to standard and that they weren’t getting the information we need. So that was one of our answers for them,” said Wowk.
In her new role as chair, Wowk said she hopes to focus on getting their delegates involved and feeling that they are contributing to ABP and the way the beef industry as a whole is going. She said ABP is also working hard to ensure beef producers are seen as the essential service they are by the provincial government.
Asked if her upbringing had influenced her decision to be involved in the cattle industry, Wowk laughed and said she was born in Montreal and raised in Calgary.
“The closest I came to a cow was driving by one on the highway.”
She said she fell in love with cattle when she was in vet school and then met her husband in Claresholm when he was announcing a Tennessee Walking Horse show.
“And that’s how I ended up coming back to Beauvallon, which I didn’t even know existed. Although I do have family in Bonnyville. So I kind of had a clue of where I was going,” said Wowk.
She said it was terrifying when she was first starting out, but every day was a challenge and that challenge is what appealed to her.
“And I feel that’s the way it is now with Alberta Beef. I know the industry well, but there’s always new things coming up. There’s new problems, and there’s new issues and it’s just another new challenge for me. I’m really looking forward to it,” said Wowk.
Asked if being a woman has ever impacted her experience working with ABP or in the cattle industry over the years, Wowk said she’s always been very warmly welcomed and that she’s very much been treated as a producer first and foremost.
“And I don’t want to be thought of as a woman chair, you know what I mean? It’s like you just want to do the best job you can. And I think it doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female, I just think that so long as the lines of communication are open, and we try and understand each other, I just don’t think it’s making much of a difference anymore,” said Wowk.