Bringing her experience to the table
Rancher Cherie Copithorne-Barnes discusses the diverse opportunities that have shaped her perspectives when taking on leadership roles
By Piper Whelan
When Cherie Copithorne-Barnes first served on an industry organization board in her early 20s, she already possessed a wealth of knowledge in working through difficult situations.
After going through the ordeal of being publicly sued by neighbours over range improvements, the fourth-generation rancher was asked to lend her experience to the Western Stock Growers’ Association by joining its board of directors.
“Being able to understand how you have to work with people and not against people has just carried itself through the many boards and things that I’ve done going forward,” she says.
“It is a privilege to be able to explain to people what we do, but we have to invite the conversation.”
– Cherie Copithorne-Barnes
“As a young person coming into this, you need to be patient. It really is about patience and really trying to consider yourself as a sponge, and not being afraid to speak up and ask questions.”
Copithorne-Barnes, who runs CL Ranches Ltd. west of Calgary, Alta, is a familiar figure in the Canadian beef industry and has held numerous leadership positions. The diversity of opportunities she’s taken advantage of throughout her career, she explains, have broadened her perspectives of the agriculture industry.
“I really have been blessed with a very diverse life,” says Copithorne-Barnes, who knew from an early age that ranching was her true path, and has been able to carry that passion into several different businesses.
“As young people are venturing out into the world and wanting to really participate, you’ve got to remember that you need a little bit of diversity. One of the biggest problems that I see in a lot of our industry boards is that people haven’t got a big enough view and understanding,” she says. “It’s not always the same in just your little corner of the world, and you have to have a very open mind to be able to absorb, to contribute as well.”
One such opportunity that greatly expanded her horizons was running a large ranch in South America for seven years after she and her husband married. This adventure saw the couple establishing this beef operation, providing Copithorne-Barnes the opportunity to deal with everything from an auctioneer who at first wouldn’t take her bids to understanding international meat markets.
Back at home, on the ranch that’s been in her family since the 1880s, her focus is on continuous improvement, with particular attention to genetics and feed efficiency. Her ranch’s location, however, provides challenges to everyday operations that many beef producers don’t face. “I sit right on the Trans-Canada Highway, so I’ve got 10,000 cars going through here a day. We’ve got a million people 30 kilometres away from us, so public pressure is something that has made my life very difficult,” she says.
“It’s always constant learning in the sense that we have to help them understand what it is that we do, and that’s really how I got involved with the (Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef).”
Copithorne-Barnes has served as council chair for the CRSB, and her involvement in this stakeholder collaboration has provided a valuable experience in learning how to engage effectively with consumers. “It is a privilege to be able to explain to people what we do, but we have to invite the conversation,” she says.
For her, finding the language and connections that resonate with consumers and weaving that into a compelling story has been an important lesson. “We’re so proud of what we do. For us, the language that we use is natural, but to a consumer or the public they don’t understand it and they don’t want to understand it unless it relates to them. And so you have to create a dialogue that they want to hear and they understand.”
Working with the many partners involved in the CRSB allowed Copithorne-Barnes to delve deeper into other facets of the beef industry. “You get the input of people that really don’t understand your component of the value chain, and vice versa. I’ve learned so much about dealing at the retail level or the packer level just through the conversations that happen.”
This collaboration has given her the opportunity to communicate the full story to consumers, a story that brings her motivation as a rancher front and centre.
“It’s about the passion of being able to run cows, which is really what I love to do, and doing it in a way that I know I’m positively impacting the environment and at the same time being able to demonstrate and show the people around me how good we are for the environment and the community as a whole,” she explains.
“There’s nothing I love more than being able to show how it’s more than just having a cow on this place — it’s about the water, it’s about the grass, it’s about the air. It’s all one big picture.”