A Southern Alberta rancher continues his journey telling the story of Canada's beef industry with the help of restaurant giant, McDonald's.
Stephen Hughes from Chinook Ranch near Longview has been named the first-ever Canadian representative for the McDonald's Flagship Farmer Program.
The program is a global McDonald's initiative which amplifies the stories of exceptional farmers who exemplify best practices in beef production and agriculture, according to McDonald's Canada.
It says the global organization has recognized 33 producers from 17 countries as part of the Flagship Farmer Program.
The farmers, producers, and growers are then featured in individual videos and success stories posted to the Flagship Farmers website.
McDonald's Canada says Hughes was selected for his long-term commitment to innovative ranching practices, including year-round, rotational grazing techniques.
Hughes says he's humbled to represent the beef industry, knowing there's lots of people doing a tremendous job.
He believes the recognition stems back to his involvement with the company starting in 2014.
"I first went down this path with them for the McDonald's sustainable beef pilot project. I was the first one in Canada to kind of be audited under that pilot, so I think that's why they made the choice."
He says he got hooked on the idea of connecting with consumers a number of years ago when he was part of a direct natural beef marketing group, selling into Europe and Canada's west coast.
"What I really learned, especially from dealing with people in Europe, was how much they appreciated the story," he explains. "I think that was almost more important than the beef itself. That really clicked with me."
Hughes stresses there's a lot of misinformation circulating in the public about the beef industry.
"I look at it as just part of our daily routine...and we have to keep on telling the story of what we're doing well. We have to keep on telling it in a positive manner, and we have to keep on engaging with people about what we're doing so that we're able to keep doing it."
McDonald's Canada says the Flagship Farmer Program has engaged farmers and ranchers in Europe for several years, and its focus will now be to recognize beef producers through the program in each of the top 10 countries from which the fast-food company sources its beef, including Canada.
The big announcement was at the Western Canada Conference on Soil Health and Grazing in Edmonton on Tuesday, December 10.
Hughes says to be recognized in a room full of progressive producers was a "real honour", adding he's heard people comment on how impressed they were to see the CEO and President of McDonald's Canada, John Betts, make time to be at the conference and speak genuinely about the beef industry.
In a statement, Betts said McDonald's commitment to using 100 per cent Canadian beef and supporting Canadian ranchers and farmers remains a key business priority.
"Bringing the Flagship Farmer Program to Canada is the next logical step in our beef sustainability journey and helps us respond to growing consumer demand for responsibly-sourced beef. By working together on initiatives such as this, everybody benefits–our business, our suppliers and our guests."
McDonald's did turn some heads in September when they announced they'd be testing a new plant-based burger known as the PLT (plant, lettuce and tomato) in southwestern Ontario until the end of the year.Click here to see more...