Lianne Appleby

Lianne Appleby

Unless you’ve had your head in the sand for the last 30 years, you know producers of food now have to pay a lot more attention to what the end consumer wants than perhaps they did in the past. The fact that it may cost more to produce a commodity if the animal is housed differently is of little concern to Joe Shopper. What he or she wants to do is make a “feel-good” purchase.
At a conference last month, I ran into a peer who I would dub an “agvocist” – someone very passionate about promoting agriculture to the point that it pours over into her personal Facebook posts.  This woman is, for lack of a more appropriate word, effervescent.

But, when I asked her what she thought of two on-farm animal welfare breaches that made the mainstream news last fall, her shoulders sagged slightly and a small sigh escaped from her lips.  I was taken aback.

“Sorry,” she said as she collected herself.  “It’s just that there’s so much good being done out there that doesn’t make the news but agriculture is a slave to its exceptions.”  We carried on chatting for a little while and by the end of the conversation, she was back to her usual bubbly self, but that one brief moment of resignation startled me – perhaps because it was so out-of-character.  

I think any farmer who strives to do what’s right grimaces when an undercover video surfaces. We cannot deny that Code of Practice violations will occur from time to time on Canadian farms – and yes, poultry operations too.   What we can do, is acknowledge and correct those breaches.  We can train personnel, instil respect for the animals in our care, reprimand and penalize as necessary and learn lessons from what happened.

But let us not forget that there’s another side to the coin.  As well as recognizing when things have gone wrong, it’s equally important to acknowledge things done right, and applaud the many shining examples we own in this industry of sustainable farming.  We congratulate not because they are exceptions, but because they are – happily – instances of the trending norm.  As an industry, it’s essential to remind ourselves of that.

So, on that note, in this issue we are delighted to tip our cap to Farmcrest Foods Ltd. (Farmcrest) of Salmon Arm, B.C., recipients of the 2016 Canadian Poultry Sustainability Award.  As you read on, you’ll discover how Farmcrest is dedicated to continual learning and improvement, takes responsibility as stewards of a sensitive land area and works to ensure that employees are treated like family.  The operation is a true model of sustainability in all of its forms.

Owners Richard Bell and Alan Bird will receive $2,000, and a farm gate sign as well as the award itself.  We congratulate them on their achievement.

In closing, I would also like to take the time to first acknowledge all of the applicants for the award.  Your dedication and commitment to your own longevity and that of the industry is commendable.

I would be remiss as well, if I didn’t acknowledge our Canadian Poultry Sustainability Award judges this year – former Canadian Poultry editor, Kristy Nudds; Valerie Carney, poultry research scientist and technology transfer coordinator with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry; and Al Dam, provincial poultry specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.  The quality of the applicants was exceptional and selecting our winner was no enviable task.  Your thorough review process and willingness to give time to the selection of our winner is appreciated.

Recognition, also, to would-be sponsors of the cancelled Canadian Poultry Sustainability Symposium: Big Dutchman, Clark Ag Systems Ltd., Chicken Farmers of Canada, Cobb-Vantress, Egg Farmers of Canada, Farm Credit Canada and Walbern Agri Ltd. Thank you for your support.

Tyson Schlegel (left) and Jihad Douglas of Aviagen Turkeys shake on a new joint venture. Also involving Canadian Select Genetics, the endeavour aims to offer Ontario and Eastern Canadian turkey growers “more choice” in supply and genetics.

When it comes to genetics, it’s no secret that choice is fairly limited for Canadian turkey growers. In the 100th anniversary (March 2013) issue of Canadian Poultry, Dr. Peter Hunton wrote: “…in the past 100 years, poultry breeding in Canada has evolved from hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of small, independent farms that did very little in the way of selective breeding, to the point at which most breeding work is done by a handful of multinational companies whose products are distributed and multiplied on an international basis.”

The companies that have survived concentration therefore strive to maintain a competitive edge, and ensure that the products and services they provide to their customers are meeting the needs of the market. But for Aviagen Turkeys, competitive innovation doesn’t always happen as a result of strategic meetings around a boardroom table – sometimes it’s simply the fruit of casual conversations with growers like Tyson Schlegel. It was one such chat - with Rob Walker, a technical sales representative with Aviagen - that a general dialogue about the Ontario turkey industry and what it needs to grow and progress, sparked some more legitimate ideas.

“We were just sitting down, about two years ago, throwing ideas out,” says Schlegel, who, at that time owned Great Lakes Poultry Farms Ltd., and has since acquired Belwood Poultry Ltd, with his father and brother. “We talked about the notion of a new hatchery, of perhaps expanding, and the potentials that could happen from there.”

Previously a wholly commercial turkey operation, Schlegel says the decision to move into breeders as well is 100 percent “new” for the family-owned operation. Schlegel’s Father, Peter, has been involved with poultry all his life, becoming involved in the commercial chicken industry in 1950. He then diversified and entered the turkey business with purchases of commercial turkey farms in the Wingham area in the early 1990s. Tyson purchased his own two farms near Lake Erie while still attending the University of Guelph in 2000.

Not long after his chat with Walker, the junior Schlegel was in more serious talks with Aviagen Turkeys’ President, Jihad Douglas, about the concept of a joint venture. The Schlegels already wanted to grow their business and were known to Aviagen as open-minded growers who understand the Ontario market well. Similarly driven by a vision to be able to supply Ontario and Eastern Canadian turkey farmers with quality poults, with core values that matched, the fit seemed perfect.

 The venture itself can be broken into two parts.  First, Belwood Poultry Ltd. will serve as the breeder farm operation – for now, at least. Breeder flocks are already on the ground in older barns, but new breeder barns are currently being built.

Says Schlegel, “Construction has already started on two state-of-the-art breeding facilities. The first, in Bruce Township, has the capacity for 8,000 breeders. The second farm is in Ashfield Township. There, we have four lay barns going up, one tom barn and an egg service room. It will house about 16,000 breeders, with capacity for about 20,000.”

 The proposed complex will be enclosed, so that employees won’t leave until the end of the day. Use of tunnel ventilation will mean less interference from the outside. In fact, the whole concept is modelled on primary breeding complexes, maintaining the same high level of biosecurity. Based on a more European design, the facility will use a lot more concrete than in traditional breeder barns.

Second is the construction of a breeder hatchery, to be built in Southwestern Ontario within the next two years. The exact location will be finalized after considering factors such as airport and border access, and ready supply of labour. Canadian Select Genetics (CSG) has the responsibility to market the breeder eggs produced.

“The hatchery will be a facility with extremely high-biosecurity and state-of-the-art design for operating efficiencies. It will use single-stage hatching incubator machines and will meet and exceed all Canadian Food Inspection Agency requirements (CFIA) for hatching egg export opportunities. The ability to achieve the required results as mandated by the ownership structure will require a highly qualified team of veterinarians to add and oversee the complete health quality of this program.” says Douglas.

When asked about capacity, Douglas, Schlegel and Jorge Cota of CSG admit that that’s one big factor yet to be determined, but what they will ensure is that whatever the initial capacity the venture, the plan is to allow for an easily expandable business process as the market grows. The farm and building design, therefore, is vitally important.

“What we can say is that it will be large enough to supply Ontario and Eastern Canada,” says Douglas. “It will be at least that big, and able to export internationally.” From a primary breeder business viewpoint, having a hatchery in Canada will potentially allow Aviagen to offset disease risks by having production in several countries.

Cota notes, “We’ll work in collaboration with hatcheries we have in the U.S. so we can work as a back-up to them in case of disease issues. That will create a lot of synergies in terms of moving product back and forth and dealing with disease issues. Secure supply on each side of the border is very important to being able to serve our customers.”

As the President of Aviagen Turkeys, Douglas will be hands-off once the venture is off the ground, leaving Cota to serve as the general manager, while Schlegel will formally be the president. While focus will be on the hatchery and marketing of the eggs (currently, all eggs are being exported to the U.S., until the hatchery is built), Cota says CSG will also play a large role in the management of the farms. Douglas adds that there are specific areas of Southwestern Ontario where they know that labour is easier to find – the key is to ensure that anyone they hire has the proper technical expertise.

The fact that the Schlegels are growers and can identify themselves with other growers quite easily makes face-to-face perhaps the best way of marketing the new endeavour. Further opportunity to grow the business and service the market may arise after operating for a while, so Schlegel says they’ll be doing ongoing business reviews to ensure they’re on the right track. Logistically, the goal of serving local producers works in the short term but neither Schlegel or Douglas rules out export of eggs from the breeder farms to countries outside of North America - hopefully to create a strong and sustainable international business.

“If you look at the history of the multiplier-breeder business, nobody has invested in any new facilities for at least the last 10 years in Ontario,” notes Schlegel. “I think we’re one of the few that have invested money in brand new barns. In fact, we did a lot of research and visited some of Aviagen’s existing barns in the U.S. to see what we could do here.”

Determining what type of genetics best suit the Ontario and Eastern-Canadian markets is key to the venture.

“We have several products that could fit the Ontario market,” says Douglas. “We have the large product, the Nicholas 700 and which is a market leader worldwide. We have the option to do ‘super selection,’ which would place more genetic selection on the toms – something like 25 per cent. That will enhance the performance of the final product. It doesn’t impact the reproductive traits because we are selecting more on the male side.

“We have other options, if they fit the Ontario market and Eastern Canadian market, such as the Nicholas 500. Our newer product, the Premium, will be tested in Ontario shortly. Our focus, when it comes to genetics is threefold: give choice to the consumer; practice super-selection; and test options that could specifically fit the Canadian market. We look at weight, feed conversion, yield, liveability / legs and welfare – all of them as a package, because we have a balanced selection program.

“I think the options in Ontario were getting limited,” says Douglas. “We will be allowing the industry to have the luxury of choice. We believe that it’s in the best interest of the customer to have healthy competition. It’s good for us, it’s good for the competition and it’s good for the market. The risks are too high if you don’t have those options for Ontario and Eastern Canada. We need to be smarter, healthier, more innovative and more service responsive than our competition. If you are a good supplier, provide good service, good quality poults, good genetics and build relationships, you’re going to be rewarded by having good customers.”

Before anything moved ahead though, Schlegel is quick to point out that he and Douglas met with many fellow turkey growers - including the Chair of Turkey Farmers of Ontario, Ingrid DeVisser - to share their vision and ensure that it had support.

“We’ve been very transparent with the Ontario marketing board about the whole thing,” says Schlegel. “We told them how we see things working and what our plans are. We made sure we had support from the beginning.

“With us being a larger turkey grower, to have control and be part of the process to ensure that we’re getting as good of a poult possible on our farm is key,” says Schlegel. “We know what the returns are and we want to make sure all growers in Ontario and Eastern Canada have access to good, quality poults.”

 

The holidays are a wonderful time of year, full of the sentiments that should last the whole year through.

In their wake come a lot of creative and yummy turkey recipes. Unfortunately, the holidays are usually also followed by endless lineups to take back the gifts that don’t fit – or were simply bad choices. Aside from getting back to normal life, we’re faced with decisions like whether to actually grow that Chia Uncle Si or regift it at the earliest possible opportunity.

If you’ve realized that we’re now three months into 2014 and you haven’t yet decided what to do with the cash, cheques and gift cards that you grossed over the holidays, why not go out and grab yourself a copy of Eggs in Your Life (EIYL), by Peter Surai and Ray Noble?

This little paperback, published in 2013, was lent to me by Peter Hunton, who often writes for Canadian Poultry. The copy was gifted directly to Peter by his close friend Surai. When Peter sent it along to me, he attached a handwritten note: “Lianne – would like this back when you are finished with it. P”.  

That was last summer…but I still have it. That’s because EIYL isn’t a book that you read once and shelve indefinitely. It’s a reference book. And, well, I don’t want to give it back.

EIYL touches on every egg-related topic imaginable: The role of the egg in human nutrition; its structure; how eggs are laid; the cholesterol debate; free-range versus conventional cages; organic eggs; what countries produce and consume the most eggs. It’s all there, and more.  

Not only that, but it’s full of useless-yet-interesting anecdotes like “Bizarre Things People do with Eggs.” If you were impressed when Cool Hand Luke ate 50 of the hard-boiled type in an hour, then check out 43-year-old Sonya Thomas’s record.

“When I first read this book, I was at a loss to describe its target audience, and the authors could not help,” says Peter. “It contains a wealth of useful and valuable information, but for whom? It is somewhere above the head of the average consumer. We can wish that doctors, dieticians, teachers and other pundits who influence people’s decisions about food would read it, but there can be no assurance that they will.

“Egg farmers and others in the industry will enjoy it because they are familiar with some of the content, but will surely learn a great deal more from the authors’ very wide range of information presented. It may end up as the egg industry’s responsibility to get the book to those in positions of influence (the abovementioned pundits) and this would be a worthwhile effort. I certainly believe that readers of Canadian Poultry would enjoy the book.”

So if you think that eggnog is the only liquor derived from The Perfect Protein, you’d better turn straight to page 118.

Happy reading!

Editorial changes

Kristy Nudds resumes her role as Editor of Canadian Poultry magazine, following her maternity leave.  

Lianne Appleby moves to the new position of Digital Editor – AgAnnex with lead responsibilities for the digital division of Annex Business Media’s agricultural publications.

Lianne will represent AgAnnex at a cross-section of agricultural events.

Boxing isn’t just two people who hit each other until one gives up or gets concussed, my Uncle (an amateur boxer himself) used to tell me. “That’s what you and your sister do. Boxing is mental.” So is my sister, I remember thinking.

It took me a bit of growing up to understand what he meant, but later on, I realized that training for a match isn’t done exclusively in a gym. Boxing well means being sharp-minded, not just fit, so that you can keep your opponent off guard and land unexpected hits.

It’s a good probability that the majority of egg farmers are feeling like they’ve taken one such sucker punch, of late. In October, the television program W5 broke the story – with devastating undercover video footage – that an egg farm in Alberta was allegedly treating animals unethically.  

Yes, it was one farm, and yes, spokespeople quickly jumped in with statements like “what was shown in the video is inappropriate and unacceptable.” Nevertheless, Canada’s egg industry was left sporting a black eye. Secondary to the on-camera happenings was the likelihood that with one blow, a lot of good work to win public trust would be quickly overshadowed.

Boxers have the advantage of realizing that they’re actually in a fight, knowing who their opponent is, and having access to all the stats about their opponent’s previous bouts.

Those of us in agriculture aren’t so lucky, and success lies in how we parry the blows. After all, in the never-ending battle against activist groups like Mercy for Animals, there is no referee to call a time out.  

What is said to be one of the most strategic boxing matches of all time took place between boxing maestro Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran II. The first time they had met, Duran simply overwhelmed Leonard with what has been described as “punishing body shots and relentless aggression.” Afterwards, Leonard speculated that to win their next fight, he would have to do it mentally. And that’s what he did.

In their November 1980 rematch, Leonard demonstrated a mastery of psychological warfare by boxing smartly. Although it’s argued that Duran was in better physical shape, he was unsure how to react to the unprecedented tactics he was faced with – and Leonard capitalized on that to score points. In the eighth round, Duran famously quit the bout with the surrender “No mas.”

The fight card may seem a little skewed where animal agriculture is concerned. Activist groups have more resources and certainly more money. But with the public looking on, whether hits are below the belt or not, how they are handled counts.

Here’s where the egg industry is in its element. The sector has put in the time and training that make it possible come out on top. PAACO certifications, Codes of Practice, transparency, superb marketing campaigns and an inherent commitment to continuous improvement all are part of the strategy. If, when and how they are used – and if, when and how they are talked about – are paramount to success.  

Canada’s egg farmers can take a lesson from the Leonard v. Duran fight. Sure, unexpected left hooks may do temporary damage, but even champions usually emerge with a welt or two.

For centuries, the bane of agriculture’s existence has been its byproduct, manure. Once a tolerated fact of life, the embarrassing subject of poop – and what to do with it – began to haunt farmers as more and more people became removed from farming. The not-in-my-backyard cliché is at its best when the necessary task of spreading it comes around: Sure, you can do that, if you have to – just not across the road from my house.

But homeowners who envision lower property values are the obvious opposition. What they care about first and foremost is the smell. What governments and environmentalists care about is the fact that today’s technologies have not yet presented us with an efficient way to “recycle” manure, making it necessary to regulate how, where, when it’s spread – and who actually does the spreading.

Ivan Milin has been thinking about those two concerns a lot. The Serbian-born, Canadian-based engineer-turned-inventor is credited with multiple inventions, but his latest one (and its multiple clauses) is on a course to revolutionize the way we think about and handle livestock manure. The technology he’s patented via his Guelph- and Toronto-based company, EcoSpace Engineering Ltd., and the equipment he’s designed have already turned heads locally – and now they’re gaining international attention.

NOT SO OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD
Milin often refers to what he considers the “industrialized” production of animals, as the First World moved away from small farms to bigger, more efficient systems of production. The problem, in his mind, is that we have never developed ecologically friendly ways of processing manure to match that high level of production. “We have to industrialize the recycling of [animal] wastes,” he says. “Only then, will we close the natural cycle, restore the balance in our environment and have a sustainable meat and egg production industry.”

 Figure-1---Sketch
 In these simplified cut-away diagrams, shown from the side and end, the Milinator’s basic skeleton can be seen. Image courtesy of Ivan Milin
Inspiration came in the form of a project called Trip to Mars, undertaken during the communist era in Soviet Russia but later discontinued. When it was shelved, certain scientific communities learned of the idea behind the project. Milin met some of the people that were part of the work and learned for himself what it entailed.

In short, the research detailed how to sustain an environment in a spaceship during a three-year journey to Mars and back. Without the privilege of being able to truck waste away and spread it, scientists were looking at a way to recycle it on the spacecraft. In a closed, long-term environment, astronauts need live birds, such as Japanese quail, to produce eggs and food, and both the birds and the humans themselves would generate feces. The technology used in space was a simple, manual closed-system approach to dealing with that problem.

“This environmentally-friendly recycling process used the life cycle of the fly to transform feces and other organic waste into rich organic fertilizer for the spaceship plants, which would then produce oxygen,” notes Milin. “The [resultant] fly larvae would be used to feed the Japanese quails, on the spaceship.”

When you consider what would occur in a world devoid of human intervention, the process isn’t so space-aged. Wild animals produce manure and die – and in either case, the cycle is closed. In nature, flies would lay eggs in the manure, or in the decaying body. In due course, those eggs would become fly larvae, which feed off what they are living in. Birds or other animals would eat those larvae or the resultant pupae and flies, leaving a relatively cleaned-up scene and further nurtured life.

Now privy to the small-scale recycling work, Milin started to ponder if – and how – the concept could be adapted for large-scale processing of manure and other organic waste produced in modern agriculture. “Everything is so simple on a small scale but very complicated on the large, industrial scale. To me, the most interesting part of this spaceship micro ecosystem was the recycling of animal and human feces by using fly larvae. Their recycling process lasted only six days and recycling was total. All of the products were useful and no byproducts were generated to pollute the spaceship’s ecosystem.”

Milin says he was fascinated by the ways that this system could have when adapted and applied to agriculture. He therefore took it upon himself to find a way to adapt it to large-scale processing.

LACK OF FUNDING
The problem was, with just an idea that the technology could work, and small-scale Russian technology as inspiration, Milin needed to find money to fund the research. In a “which came first” scenario, the funding wouldn’t come until he had something concrete, but he couldn’t have concrete evidence without funding.

That’s when Milin sat down with his wife, Bicky, and had a heart-to-heart chat. Also from an engineering background, Bicky knew that her husband was on to something.

“We talked about it and that’s when she suggested we use our retirement savings to fund my research. I asked her if she was serious and she said, ‘Absolutely, I love the premise of this technology and I know you could do it.’ So, that’s what we’ve done.”

COOL CONNECTIONS
Along the way, Milin began collaborating with Bioenterprise Corporation, a business accelerator and commercialization agent established to help promote the creation and expansion of businesses engaged in agri-technologies. Through this relationship, he was connected to Mike Dixon at the University of Guelph.  

Figure-2---Schematic 
 A 3-D schematic of the Milinator. Image courtesy of Walinga, Inc.
Dixon is a professor and director of the Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility (CESRF). CESRF and its Space and Advanced Life Support Agriculture program are part of Canada’s contributions to plant research and development for space and closed-environment related activities.

“You can’t throw anything away when you leave Earth,” says Dixon. His goal is to be able to sustain life indefinitely in space. “It’s not like here. You’re in a tin can – a tightly constrained ecosystem – and you have to recycle everything and you can’t disinfect. You have to recycle nitrogen, carbon dioxide and water. Plants are absolutely necessary in space; you can’t leave Earth without them. Ivan’s work is one piece of our project – how to recycle the nitrogen. This is an accelerated composting.”

THE CONCEPT
Right now, Milin is working on his technology in conjunction with laying hen manure only, as, for now, it’s the best fit for the research purpose. His prototype is housed at the University of Guelph’s Arkell Research station, but Milin’s vision is that every poultry and livestock barn will eventually be fitted with the unit, which would be custom-made to handle the size of the operation.

The prototype was dubbed The Milinator by Milin’s friend after its development, and the name has stuck. But what is it?

According to Milin, it is “an industrialized, yet natural processing of raw manure.” The equipment and process he’s developed essentially result in an odourless, dry organic material – a high-quality organic fertilizer. The “natural” comes in because Milin relies on the natural biological processes of the common housefly (Musca domestica) to do the processing, which results in his second product, a protein-rich potential animal feed in the form of fly larvae. The biologics of the process mean there is no air, water or soil pollution during the decomposition of the raw manure, and the entire cycle is completed in only four days, before decomposition would ordinarily begin to take place.

Milin says the housefly seems to be the best species to use because of its shorter life cycle, its prolificacy and the ability of its larvae to kill pathogens so the processed fertilizer is safe for use in both indoor and organic farming. Trials have been done that used the Black Soldier Fly (Hermetia illucens), but that species is harder to work with. Other insect larvae (such as mealworms and darkling beetles) were also considered, but abandoned because they are known to be major disease carriers.

HOW THE MILINATOR WORKS
With Dixon’s help, and with support from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Milin was able to secure space for his prototype, built by Walinga (See “Local Involvement” sidebar on page 12) at the Arkell Research Station. Bioenterprise Corporation secured office space for Milin in its Guelph facility for when he needs to be close to his project.

The Milinator is a series of conveyor belts (see diagrams on page 12 and above) working on top of each other. Poultry manure is deposited onto the top belt where it is mixed with fly eggs via a “fly egg seeder.”

After the top belt is loaded with manure and inoculated with fly eggs, the job for that day is finished. From the eggs, larvae soon hatch and start rapidly processing manure. The next day, the belts are started again (running for only 10 to 20 minutes) and manure from the top belt together with feeding larvae is transferred to the second belt below. At the same time, the now-empty top belt is loaded with fresh manure and inoculated with fresh fly eggs. When the first batch reaches the last (bottom) belt, the processing is finished and the manure is now a very rich organic fertilizer, which is discharged from the final belt. The process is continuous and the daily capacity can be customized without limitations, says Milin.

There is no need to separate larvae from the finished fertilizer, because when larvae finish the process, they instinctively migrate out of the fertilizer and fall over the edge of the belt into the larvae collector. That leaves two products: a rich dry, organic fertilizer, and fly larvae (which, if left untreated for two to four days, become pupae).

But what’s the big problem that the Milinator system solved, which others who tried to industrialize the larval processing of manure failed to do?

Says Milin, “The scientists from the  Trip to Mars program gave a very simple explanation for that. They said ‘It is not possible to make the process profitable and nobody would use money-losing technology.’ I maintain that the best way to clean the environment is to make the process profitable.”

Milin says that to do this, the processed manure has to be tightly packed within the processor and that requires very precise and very uniform air circulation throughout the entire processing chamber. The Milinator patent has 24 claims on which the air circulation system is the main feature.

Manure in the Milinator system is packed so tightly that every 20 centimetres (8 inches) of vertical space contains one layer of manure together with conveyor belts, scrapers, belt holders and the air space for precise and uniform ventilation.

“The Milinator system does not change anything from what would occur naturally,” notes Milin. “We simply make sure that with the technology, the conditions in every part of the processor are perfect for the larvae to live and work. Mother Nature and the larvae of Musca domestica do the rest.”

BUILDING A FAN BASE
Finding allies who support his technology isn’t really a problem for Milin, especially among the knowledgeable people within the related industry. The patented process is so revolutionary that he has already got a huge fan base for the Milinator.  Tim Nelson, the former executive director of the Poultry Industry Council, has been in contact with Milin from the start.

“This innovative and natural approach to dealing with the dual issue of increasing input costs and the profitable use of animal byproducts has the potential to increase agricultural efficiency,” says Nelson. “And, if successful, as a Canadian discovery it may well also generate important export income either as a proven technology, or perhaps of the final product itself.”

Egg Farmers of Ontario (EFO) has also voiced support, stating in a letter from general manager Harry Pelissero that “the possibility of producing improved environmental benefits and a valuable output product at an acceptable cost … appears promising.” The letter goes on to offer support for securing research facilities and an interest in being kept abreast of how the work is progressing.

“The potential for commercializing this innovative process for use…on manure is very promising,” says Ron Lackey, feed ingredients and byproducts feeding specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF). “I look forward to providing continued support and guidance to Ivan when and where possible, on his journey to success and satisfaction with his Milinator technology.”

Accolades are pouring in from outside of agriculture as well. Gord Miller, Ontario’s environmental commissioner, has visited with Milin and showed great support for the technology. “I showed the commissioner how this works and he was intrigued by it,” says Millin. “He’s fully supportive of it and my efforts to secure funding to proceed with the research.”

And, in China, Leon Hui is the CEO of the China Foundation for Desertification Control. Tasked with halting the spread of the Gobi desert, Hui has told Milin that his technology is under consideration for utilization in the effort to slow down desertification in China. Milin says, “In Leon’s words, ‘with the Milinator technology, we will make the whole desert green.’ ”

NO COMPETITION
You may have heard of similar ideas that tell of using insects to compost manure; Milin is acutely aware of these, but stresses that what he’s got is a system for handling large amounts of manure, quickly and efficiently.

“I have heard [a] South African story and also a Japanese story and Russian one … and so on, but nobody is telling what technology they are using. Anybody could put organic waste in a tray and put some fly eggs in it and they would do the job. The problem is that handling a large amount of waste and making sure that every part of that waste is supplied with adequate amounts of fresh air and kept under proper temperature for larvae to properly do the job is much more complicated.

“Up to now I have not seen any technology that could do large-scale production, especially with manure. The South Africans work only with animal blood and viscera, as far as I know, and they talk only of producing larvae. Labour is cheap in Africa and they do not have to heat the process so they might be able to make it profitable on the smaller scale, but my system would probably be even cheaper there because I could work on the larger scale with much less labour.”

Milin notes that the Milinator technology does not rely on sale of larvae to be profitable and that any revenue from selling larvae and/or carbon credits would be just an extra profit.

Milin’s patent is already approved in about 50 countries, which means that 50 patent offices around the world couldn’t find any technology that is similar to his. “Most likely all [those] stories are just stories that tell of smaller operations. If they copy some part of my technology, then my lawyer would deal with that, but so far I have not seen any technology being described or data of the products being tested, just stories.”

INTO THE FUTURE
Says Milin, “This environmentally friendly process has the potential to become a superior and sustainable solution for a very large portion of the Earth’s pollution problems. Properly developed, my technology could completely eliminate all the problems associated with animal, poultry and human manure generated on our huge industrialized animal and poultry farming facilities and in our cities.”

Milin says that he’d like to set up a small plant in Canada and use it for further research and as a training facility for future operators of Milinator technology (the next phase of the process is to secure licencees who would use the technology on-farm).

He says that there are no limits to how the Milinator concept could be adapted for use with other poultry and livestock, even municipal organic waste. “I strongly believe that any nation and any industry would gladly adapt this technology because it is environmentally friendly, clean, efficient, and of course, profitable.”

Local Involvement
The prototype Milinator was custom-built for Milin by Guelph-based Walinga Inc., a company best known for its feed delivery equipment and pneumatic conveying systems. Walinga started operations in the 1950s as Commercial Body & Coach with a staff of just two people. Today, more than 200 people are employed in Ontario, Manitoba and Michigan.

Walinga has three divisions: engineered transportation equipment, pneumatic conveying systems and machining. The latter includes clients and partnerships in many industries and markets, including material handling, plastics, food processing, mining, heavy equipment, and pulp and paper.

“Although we built the Milinator, this was 100 per cent Ivan’s plan, Ivan’s design,” says C.H (Butch) Medemblik, the managing director of manufacturing and engineering at Walinga. “We were connected a few years before the prototype came to fruition and it’s a different type of project than we normally take on. Having said that, customers ask for unique solutions to unique problems, and we try our best to work with them. Our engineers and machinists are very skilled people who can take a dialogue with a customer and turn it into something like the Milinator.”

Walinga is especially well known for its Agri-Vac, a grain mover that first came on to the agricultural scene in 1977, but Medemblik acknowledges that the Milinator was a project unlike any of the company’s previous collaborations. But Walinga’s slogan is Building Any Body for Anybody and that’s just what they did here.

“We were very pleased to be approached, and we’re proud to be part of this research,” notes Medemblik. “The Milinator has massive implications for the way we handle manure. There were a number of Walinga’s people involved with this, and it’s been a great partnership so far.”

Feeding a Hungry World
The Milinator is a novel technology in itself, but the good news does not end there. Milin has found that the organic fertilizer produced by the process is proving to be a story in itself.

He’s named the resultant fertilizer “Cyclorganic,” because it’s produced by recycling organic farm waste. The Milinator process captures and ties up nutrients such as nitrogen, which are later released for plant growth when applied to the soil as a fertilizer. This, Milin says, practically eliminates the risk of nitrogen escaping into the environment, where it can affect air and water quality.

But, the difference between Cyclorganic and other plant fertilizers is what the fly larvae add to it, during the process, he says. “Many insects and their larvae are disease carriers affecting both plants and humans, but fly larvae are known to kill pathogens and disinfect everything they touch.”

At home, Milin first tried the fertilizer on his own green beans and tomato plants. Compared to his neighbour’s same-variety plants, fertilized by commercially available product, Milin says the results were astounding. Vegetables and fruit flourished in Milin’s garden. Although the neighbour’s plants produced, the quantity of fruit and beans, leaf quality, colour, and size of growth were incomparable. That’s when Milin knew he needed to get a more official verdict on the quality of Cyclorganic.  

In April of 2012, the Virtual Fertilizer Research Center (VFRC), a special development unit of the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) based in Alabama, contacted Milin, and it has been working closely with him since September of that year. IFDC’s mission is to ensure global food security by providing smallholder farmers the best soil fertility solutions and farming practices suited to their conditions. The collaboration began as an attempt to assess the performance characteristics of the organic fertilizer created by the patented Milinator process.

VFRC is reviewing Cyclorganic as part of its goal to identify a new generation of more cost-effective and environmentally friendly fertilizers for commercial smallholder farming that can deliver higher nutrient uptake, improved micronutrient supply and convenient local sourcing.

Specifically, VFRC’s work with Milinator includes the exhaustive assessment of the yield performance of Cylorganic with several crops (such as sorghum) compared to commonly available commercial fertilizers, an examination of the beneficial microbial activity in soil due to Cyclorganic, and an understanding of the key requirements for successful commercial scale-up in developing regions.

Milin believes the results of this work could be extremely positive. “Depending on the results, Cyclorganic could have implications for crop yield and in countries where there are small, independent farms. We could even be talking about solutions to hunger.”

Fly Larvae as Feed
It has been much-lamented that the way food is currently produced is not sustainable; some critics are now saying that patting ourselves on the back because we recycle plastic, glass, tin and newspaper just isn’t enough.

Some, including Milin, say there also has to be a more efficient way to handle biological waste – an effective method of reducing environmental impact and utilizing waste how and when we can.

To that effect, Milin is pleased that the Milinator’s story doesn’t end with Cyclorganic alone. There is more work in the pipeline, and this time the research focuses on how to use the second byproduct of his technology, fly larvae.

“The larvae used in the Milinator process become pupae about two days after separation from the fertilizer product if the temperature is about 30 C, but they could stay larvae for the whole winter under certain conditions.”

In conjunction with Milin, Prof. Ira Mandell at the University of Guelph has funding to examine nutrient composition and microbial loads of fly larvae samples collected over the next year.  

Says Mandell, “There is no work being conducted to examine the effects of feeding the fly larvae on animal performance [yet]. Instead, in the proposed work, we will evaluate the nutrient composition and microbial loads in the layer excreta and see how it is transformed by examining the nutrient composition and microbial loads in the insect larvae and the resultant fertilizer that is produced.”

Mandell will evaluate fresh, frozen and dried larvae, as the latter will most likely be the prominent form in which the larvae be handled. It is already known that improper drying could cause problems. Extreme high temperatures can make nutrients unavailable for digestion, while inadequate drying can allow moulds to develop.  

Notes Mandell, “[n South Africa] they are light years ahead of us in this field as they are producing maggot meal from abattoir waste.”

Milin adds that when this research is complete, both he and Mandell are hoping to acquire additional funding for actual testing of the larvae and or/pupae as a feedstuff for pigs and poultry, and compare it to conventional feed ingredients.

“Nichelle Lomas obtained her master’s degree last year on the subject of poultry manure conversion by fly larvae. This year she is starting her doctorate degree on the same subject and she will collaborate with Ira,” notes Milin. “Nichelle will inoculate poultry manure with different pathogens and then process it by using fly larvae. I think that her work could perhaps be a first step in using fly larvae in the pharmaceutical industry.”
December just wouldn’t be the same without A Christmas Carol played ad infinitum on television. Even at 170 years old, the story remains popular because it continues to reflect society’s values.

So, when Ebenezer Scrooge has undergone his transformation from curmudgeon to benefactor and sends a random young lad to buy a goose for the Cratchits from the poulterers around the corner, it’s understandable that the boy is told to buy the prize one. Don’t we all want the biggest bird possible on our dinner table, even today – a point of pride, a symbol of a prosperous yet benevolent household?

Rather than pondering just how a goose got to be the size of a little boy, I imagine that readers in 1843 were preoccupied by the fact that Scrooge had done a miraculous one-eighty. But what if that same novel were actually released, for the first time, in 2013?  Would today’s readers feel equally warm and fuzzy over Scrooge’s sudden change of heart? Or, when his random lad incredulously asks, “What? The one as big as me?!” would they cynically assume that the goose in question was a Frankenfood?

With commercials, pop-up ads and the like, consumers are exposed to misinformation without even knowing it – and unfortunately, they absorb that inaccurate information, whether they realize it or not. Having been constantly bombarded with inaccuracies about antibiotics and hormones, today’s readers likely wouldn’t get past said paragraph without raising an eyebrow.

The most recent example of such absorption comes courtesy of A&W in the form of a commercial regarding the added-hormone-and-steroid-free meat it uses for its burgers (sure, this time it’s beef, but it could very well be poultry or eggs in Round 2). This fear-mongering approach has disgusted many in the agricultural community; in fact, Andrew Campbell, a dairy farmer and agvocate from Glencoe, Ont., has had enough. Andrew’s blog “I’m done with fearing food and done with A&W” (read it at www.realagriculture.com) unleashes a number of facts about hormones that many consumers may be surprised to learn.  

It is a valiant rebuttal, but whether or not his target readers actually find their way to it online is another question.

Unfortunately, reaching a captive audience while they’re sitting ducks and watching their favourite prime time show seems like a pipe dream to agricultural communicators, simply because it costs a LOT of money to do it. Canada’s agriculture sector is doing an OK job of in-your-face advertising, but it’s usually through short-lived grants and funding, not long-term, sustainable investment. With few exceptions, agricultural organizations say that marketing dollars are always among the first to be chopped in favour of government relations and trade-related endeavours. And that’s a shame.

In 1843, it was of no concern to readers how Ebenezer’s super-goose was raised, albeit mostly because added hormones weren’t conceivable yet. But now they are. If agriculture fails to invest in telling consumers what’s what, we know from experience that someone will certainly get in there and tell them what’s not.

Dollars released to consumer marketing are a wise investment given today’s climate. And I’d wager that even our Ebenezer wouldn’t say “Bah! Humbug!” to that.
With never-ending predictions that supply management will be doomed in X years, it’s important that the public understand how the system not only helps farmers remain profitable, but also benefits the consumer. The average person dwells ne’er on what the acronyms WTO, NAFTA or TPP actually mean, but they do want to know the bottom line: should I support supply management, if and when it comes down to that?

Biased ruminations on the subject can be irritating and allegations that farmers may have consistently overcharged consumers for poultry and eggs can arouse feelings of being done wrong . . . but life tends not to be fair and journalists tend not to be forgiving. In fact, it sometimes seems that some media commentators are on a mission to haunt supply management into a premature grave.

Enter a recent column in the Globe and Mail online, which details, albeit simplistically, Ontario chicken price determination under supply management. The author doesn’t mention that Canadian agriculture, as a whole, is misaligned regarding supply management. Instead, and more damagingly, he focuses on the discord within the system. The article methodically shatters the image of united farmers. It tells of processors at war with producer marketing boards (neither of whom, the article implies, is really concerned about consumer interest). And, as icing on the cake, it mentions “tight-lipped” spokespeople who (it reads) would not speak to him at any great length.

Defending supply management to the public isn’t easy to do when journalists are armed with the knowledge that even within the system, consensus isn’t easily achieved. The media is smart enough to know – and to tell it – how it is.

So, is it really fair to expect industry spokespeople to address our skeletons and balance the picture? To gain the confidence required to represent an industry takes time – and practice. And the sooner that process is begun, the better.

This month, the winners of the Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture (CYSA) will be announced at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, in Toronto. Asked to prepare speeches on one of five not-so-easy topics, these youngsters are on their way to representing the industry well in their later years.

Sure, they’ll be rough around the edges and the spit-and-polish won’t be there just yet. But the passion and enthusiasm will be.

Rebecca Hannam is the 2006 CYSA Senior Champion.“The exposure I received as a speaker opened many doors of opportunity within the industry,” she notes. “Once you go through that type of experience, the skills you gain are invaluable tools for success in the future.”

So, if anyone must talk to the Globe about my industry or the system I operate under, I’ll take the person who realizes that less than two per cent of Canadians grew up on a farm, and that explaining the intricacies of supply management to those far removed from it takes time and patience. When it comes to an articulate explanation of supply management, I do know who I want media to call: any one of the alumni of this program.

Kudos to the CYSA for shaping the spokespeople of tomorrow. For more on CYSA, visit http://www.cysa-joca.ca/core/. n
It was Charles Darwin who said that those who endure are the ones most adaptable to change. Directly speaking, his insight referred to the proliferation of any given species, but indirectly, one can apply the acumen to many other scenarios. No longer is “survival of the fittest” applicable only to flesh and blood.  It can now be extrapolated to products – and even entire companies.

Take Kodak, for an extreme example. Once a giant in the camera industry, someone in the company made the decision early on that digital photography was not the way to go. Thus, in an era when digital is king, Eastman Kodak Co. announced in August that it had “won court approval of a plan to exit bankruptcy as a commercial printing company that sells nothing to consumers.”

In short, Kodak is moving away from cameras, film sales and developing – the very products and services that originally made it a household name. With 47,000 employees shed since 2003, the closure of 13 film, paper and chemical factories, and 130 photo laboratories, Kodak is a victim of its own failure to adapt.

Also in August, but on a positive note, the North American Manure Expo came north of the border for the first time. This event is a manifestation of the need to change. Manure application is no longer a risk-free, simple process that can be done when it is and in a way that is most convenient for the farmer: regulations must be followed, and neighbours need to be considered. The very fact that the Expo exists shows the need for ongoing education, the development of new technology and the constant need to adapt – and to do what is right, what is now expected.

Poultry producers must keep their ear to the ground not just with respect to manure
management, but also with respect to production. It is no longer enough to grow chickens as they have been grown by the generations before us. Market needs must be met, and as a land with many diverse cultures making up our population, we are now seeing the need to serve those cultures by revisiting the chicken breeds that we grow. We can meet emerging demand by modifying production and raising “specialty” birds for the cultures that seek them.

Kodak lawyer Andrew Dietderich said, “While the new Kodak won’t be the company of popular imagination, it will be a leader in its chosen field.” For Kodak, however, there was never a choice. Through lack of forward thinking, the company missed the digital revolution, and by the time management realized it was a technology that would stick around, it was too late to adapt and become competitive.

For survival, the key is to be forward-thinking enough to know when change is necessary – and to be one of the early adopters. But then, as W. Edwards Deming, the U.S. professor and author, once said, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”

We are fortunate enough to have the supply management system in Canada, which stacks the odds in favour of a viable poultry sector. But, as individual farmers and as an industry in general, we must remember that in the bid to not only survive but thrive, a visionary mind is priceless.

The poultry industry could never be accused of resting on its laurels. It seems that every day there are new initiatives being undertaken to ensure that poultry producers have access to information, technology and the people who can help their farms remain successful.

Now, you can add one more initiative to the growing list – the University of Guelph’s Poultry Health Research Network (PHRN). Guelph has had a long-standing commitment to animal health, but now, the PHRN aims to further tighten technology transfer and enhance poultry research by creating a network of experts, consisting of poultry researchers and poultry health specialists, who address problems ranging from very basic biological processes to environmental concerns and industry-relevant issues.

Dr. Shayan Sharif is leader of the PHRN, which was established in 2012.

“What we are basically trying to do is to create a network of people, poultry researchers, who can address any sort of problem from basic to a very applied type of research,” he says. “This network is part of an integrated plan within the university and is a priority for both the Ontario Veterinary College and the University of Guelph. We are attempting to solidify the interactions between researchers and departments.”

The network aims to provide a forum for collaboration and co-operation not only among researchers within Guelph, but also between Guelph and other Canadian campuses. It will also, hopefully, reduce duplication where applicable.

While Sharif admits that there are other similar initiatives in Canada, and one in Georgia, he says that Guelph’s is unique because rather than focusing on production, as the name implies, this one focuses on health. But the idea is that all will complement each other.

The roster for the network currently includes 36 names, each one, says Sharif, being a “poultry health researcher and specialist.” Most participants (who could be approached or volunteer to participate) are from Guelph, with department affiliations varying from pathobiology and animal science to food science and mathematics – even engineering.

“Our team member from engineering is looking at the effect of poultry industries on the environment and human health. The computer science department is looking at modelling of poultry diseases, mathematically, but using computer software.”

The consumer studies and geography departments are also looking at the influence of poultry production on livelihoods of people, especially women in developing countries.

“In Africa, for example, women are the ones who look after raising chickens, while men look after raising cattle, and that actually has something to do with their social status,” says Sharif. “So, the researcher’s hypothesis is that by changing the way poultry is raised, you can [increase] social status.”

Within the network there is also a lot of expertise in vaccine development and diagnostic testing. There are also two industry members, Tim Nelson  (Livestock Research Innovation Corporation, LRIC) and Brue Roberts (Canadian Poultry Research Council, CPRC). Both organizations fully endorse the initiative, along with the Poultry Industry Council.

The ultimate goal of research programs within the PHRN is to increase poultry health in Canada by facilitation and provision of means for production of safe, healthy and ethically produced poultry and poultry products. A key component is that the network is trying to strengthen interaction with industry, and that is also a top priority for the initiative.

Sharif says another item that’s high the to-do list is to create training programs that will help to qualify personnel for specific tasks. Ideally, he sees opportunities for both students and professionals so that they can become qualified via degree or non-degree programs. OVC has already taken steps toward reaching this goal by providing funding to hire a faculty member in avian diseases and health.

“We have managed to justify the hiring of a faculty person, even in this climate of economic downturn,” muses Sharif. “This person will be able to help with promotion, as well as officially being the avian disease specialist.”

Because the initiative is receiving some funding, the OVC will ensure that the network meets its objectives and remains accountable through a quarterly reporting system that goes directly to the Dean of the OVC, Dr. Elizabeth A. Stone. The network is set up similarly to a board. With Sharif as the leader and coordinator, meetings will be called on a fairly regular basis, given the research work and many hats worn by each of its members. Sharif hopes that they can physically get together at least every three to four months.

The network’s first official meet-and-greet, which took place on July 30, was informal, allowing the participants to become more familiar with one another and their respective research. Sharif says he’s also hoping to hold an industry day to showcase the network. This would be an opportunity for industry stakeholders to interact with members and learn more about what they do, and foster and strengthen interactions with industry.

There are no immediate plans to have the PHRN function as an incorporated organization with brick-and-mortar offices, but Sharif says that is a possibility for the future that obviously would require funding and much support from the industry level to ensure it is warranted.

The PHRN now has a website (www.uoguelph.ca/phrn), and a Twitter account will follow, which will highlight network information, news and events.

It is key not to confuse what the PHRN does with organizations like the Poultry Industry Council (PIC), CPRC or LRIC.

The PIC remains very involved in setting poultry research priorities and in developing and delivering programs that put the research results to work for industry more effectively and efficiently. Its board decides what it will and won’t fund.

CPRC’s mission, on the other hand, is to address national marketing boards and processor needs through the creation and implementation of programs for poultry research in Canada – which may also include societal concerns.

Says Tim Nelson, “LRIC’s mandate is to work on behalf of all livestock and poultry in Ontario to deliver a better return on investment for our research dollars. We also take on the administration of research for the various sectors, creating a simplified ‘one-window’ approach to research management from OMAF’s perspective and the research provider’s perspective (University of Guelph).”

Within the university, it also is important not to confuse the PHRN with the pre-existing Poultry Program Team (PPT).

The PPT combines the strengths and resources of Ontario’s poultry industry, the provincial government through OMAFRA and the university itself. Only five people, including Sharif, are a part of that team. The others are Gregoy Bedecarrats, Michele Guerin, Csaba Varga and Al Dam. Sharif says the PHRN is a bigger group who can collaborate and co-operate effectively and efficiently, and while the PPT has similar goals, it does have limited scope and mandate, given the narrower expertise.  

“PPT will not necessarily phase out. At the time it was formed, it was an important initiative. The PHRN will envelope the PPT and I see it as a very well cemented nucleus to the larger group.”

Right now, Sharif says that as the co-ordinator, he is spearheading the PHRN, but that doesn’t mean that his research priorities are overshadowed.

“As a part of our vision, there is the provision for funds for an NSERC (National Sciences and Engineering Research Council) industrial chair in poultry health,” says Sharif. “And if that does take place, then the incumbent would take over direction of the whole initiative. They would then have a lot of administrative responsibility and would likely be relieved of some other duties in order to focus more attention to the PHRN. We will likely talk to the four marketing boards about helping to fund this as well.”

Sharif says the PHRN also helps to fulfil the expectations of the new Animal Health Lab and Pathobiology building where his office is situated.

“We’re sitting in a 2 ½-year-old building that was built with $70-75 million of taxpayers’ money – money that came to the university based on the premise that we would be enhancing our diagnostic capacities and animal health research related capacities. I don’t think that there is another facility like this anywhere in North America. We have the critical mass. We have the momentum and the PHRN will help us to maintain that forward impetus.”

In A NUTSHELL

PHRN members have expertise in:

  • diseases of poultry (diagnostics, mechanisms, prevention, treatment, modelling and epidemiology)
  • poultry production, nutrition, welfare and economics
  • public health and environmental impacts of poultry production

Current Members

  • Dr. Agnes Agunos, Public Health Agency of Canada
  • Dr. John Barta, Pathobiology
  • Dr. Gregoy Bedecarrats, Animal and Poultry Science
  • Dr. Andrew Bendall, Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Dr. Patrick Boerlin, Pathobiology
  • Dr. Martina Brash, Pathobiology
  • Dr. Hugh Cai, Animal Health Laboratory
  • Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, Management and Economics
  • Mr. Al Dam, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food
  • Dr. Rob Deardon, Mathematics and Statistics
  • Dr. Joshua Gong, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
  • Dr. Michele Guerin, Population Medicine
  • Dr. Mansel Griffiths, Food Science
  • Dr. Alice Hovorka, Geography
  • Dr. Robert Jacobs, Pathobiology
  • Dr. Gordon Kirby, Biomedical Science
  • Dr. Steven Leeson, Animal and Poultry Science
  • Dr. Emily Martin, Animal Health Laboratory
  • Dr. Eva Nagy, Pathobiology
  • Mr. Tim Nelson, Livestock Research Innovation Corporation
  • Dr. Davor Ojkic, Animal Health Laboratory
  • Dr. John Prescott, Pathobiology
  • Mr. Keith Robbins, PIC Executive Director
  • Dr. Bruce Roberts, Canadian Poultry Research Council
  • Dr. Jan Sargeant, Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses
  • Dr. Shayan Sharif, Pathobiology
  • Dr. Durda Slavic, Animal Health Laboratory
  • Dr. Dale Smith, Pathobiology
  • Dr. Trevor Smith, Animal and Poultry Science
  • Dr. Deborah Stacey, Computer Science
  • Dr. James Squires, Animal and Poultry Science
  • Dr. Patricia Turner, Pathobiology
  • Dr. Bill Van Heyst, School of Engineering
  • Dr. Csaba Varga, OMAFRA
  • Dr. Qi Wang, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada
  • Dr. Keith Warriner, Food Science
  • Dr. Tina Widowski, Animal and Poultry Science
In 2003, I was looking forward to a visit from my Long Lost Uncle, who lives somewhere on the south part of New Zealand’s north island. I had only ever met him once, when I could barely form a sentence, so the whole thing was much anticipated.

It never happened though.

Not because there was an untimely crisis on his part, or because someone in my immediate family suddenly died or fell ill. It was because the chance of falling ill deterred him from visiting Canada. Yes, that’s right . . . he cancelled the trip because of the SARS outbreak in the Greater Toronto Area.

Sure, I’d heard the media talking about the rising number of cases and the inability to keep the virus contained, but it was still something that couldn’t affect me – until my uncle cancelled his trip. Surely, if someone was missing out on the chance to visit this great country (and me), they must be reasonably concerned about the health risk. My uncle is a smart man, so if he chose to abort his trip, what did that mean for my family – all of us apparently flirting with death an hour away from the epicentre?

You can form your own opinion of how the media covers certain stories, and whether the coverage is warranted or simply the result of a slow news day. Was SARS really as serious as all that? My uncle thought so.

What then when it comes to the current avian influenza outbreaks in China, or Arkansas? Are you following those stories closely? Have you stepped up your on-farm biosecurity in order to protect your birds and your livelihood? Or, like me in 2003, are you thinking that the H blank N blanks always happen somewhere else, so there is no need for alarm?

Farmers, it has to be said, are famous for the “it won’t happen here” attitude. Someone high up in the federal government once dismissed bovine spongiform encephalopathy as something that “would never happen in Canada,” and we know how that one turned out. When avian influenza hit British Columbia in 2004, poultry producers in other provinces did pay attention, but how many actually changed their daily routines – honestly?

In late May of this year, it was reported that the H7N9 strain of avian influenza seems to develop resistance to Tamiflu, the main flu drug, and is already resistant to the only other classes of flu drugs – the adamantanes. We’re not just talking animal health with these viruses, we’re talking human health too – and that does catch the attention of the media.

Consider this: In the first quarter of 2013, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority saw 1,068,785 international passengers enplaned and deplaned. At the end of 2012, that total was 34,912,029.  Those stats are for just one Canadian international airport.  

I wonder how many applicable persons actually say “yes” when asked by Border Services if they’ve recently been to a farm or will go to one in Canada? I wonder how many people have said no, and then come to your barn’s open house or simply popped into the same coffee shop as you?

If you think about the human traffic that enters Canada from countries like China, which are experiencing outbreaks of poultry diseases, and those little white lies to the customs officer, the need for proper biosecurity protocols – and for firm compliance – is a no-brainer.
Jul. 17, 2013. The Poultry Service Industry Workshop has created a scholarship fund on behalf of the Workshop speakers, in lieu of gifts, allowing a maximum of three students to attend the Workshop free of charge.

The scholarship will cover the costs of registration and accommodation. However, students will be responsible for their own transportation.

Any student with an active interest in poultry research can apply for the scholarship by completing this form and submitting a short essay explaining why they feel they deserve the opportunity to attend the Workshop.

Submission deadline is Friday, September 6th, 2013.

To obtain an application form, contact the Workshop Coordinator, Lisa Doyle at 1-800-267-9180 or via email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
Whether you’ve fully embraced Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or not, whether you dabble in them now and then, or prefer to leave it to others, there is a revolution going on. And, happily, farmers are not conspicuous by their absence.

Thanks to the Internet, producers across Canada are flocking to social media in order to get their messages out to the masses about the way animals are raised. Consumers, for their part, are lapping it up. Why wouldn’t they? If you don’t live on a farm, visiting opportunities are (usually) rare.

The new term “agvocate” describes those of us who are passionate about food and farming, enough so that we blog, Tweet and Facebook about it. But one well-known professional agvocate from Indiana, Michele Payn-Knoper (also known in the industry as simply “MPK”), took her passion as far as writing a book, No More Food Fights, which sets out to break stereotypes.

“The book describes farmers who don’t wear overalls but who do use technology in producing food and preserving the environment,” her website says. On the flip side, the book reminds farmers that only a small portion of Americans live on farms and urges them to use social media and one-on-one interaction to correct misconceptions about food production.

Agvocacy doesn’t have to be left only to those who make it their job, though. More and more producers are posting short videos online – ordinary ones about doing chores, and even parodies of pop hits (a good one to Google is a lampoon of Psy’s Gangnam Style, dubbed Farmer Style. Or how about I’m Farming and I Grow It, based on LMFAO’s party rock hit Sexy and I Know It). These proud farmers produce such clips so that consumers can see the work and care that goes into raising animals and crops – while getting a chuckle out of the delivery method. The strategy is working. The former had nearly 13.7 million views at time of writing, while the latter showed just over 8.5 million hits.

On her site www.causematters.com, MPK writes, “Why should people interested in food and farming care about social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube? It’s really quite simple. Mass influence. Facebook reached 150 million users nearly three times faster than a cell phone.”

This month, Canadian Poultry is honoured, once again, to highlight some of the industry’s movers and shakers. They’re proud of what they do and have found the fine balance between viable farming, industry agvocacy and raising families. As we were putting this issue together, I couldn’t help but think that while social media is great for telling the stories you want told, wouldn’t it be super for Joe Public to come across this magazine and read these profiles? These stories are the ones that consumers should read – those that aren’t intended for the non-farming community yet still convey passion, caring and a determination to produce the best quality poultry and eggs possible, with bird welfare top of mind.
They’re not spun for the general public, but presented raw – and still the affection for their animals and what they do shows through. And isn’t it what you’re doing, when you think no one is looking, that really counts?

Eggs, it can be said, have had their fair share of the media spotlight. There was a time when it seemed they were to be blamed, solely, for high cholesterol and, (if we really want to exaggerate), for the heart attacks of many an unsuspecting consumer. Now, as with many dietary staples, it’s generally accepted that when consumed in moderation, eggs can be part of a healthy diet.

Most readers will be thinking, “well, we knew that all along, it’s common sense”. And, like many, other examples of bad media, the only thing to do was to ride out the unwanted publicity storm.

What do you do when the reverse is true, though – when ground-breaking research shows that eggs may be the answer to one of the most crippling conditions a person can suffer? Well, if you’re Egg Farmers of Ontario (EFO), you support further work on the subject and view it as a research and development investment.

Thus, on March 26, EFO announced at their annual meeting in Mississauga that they will provide $1 million to United Paragon Associates (UPA), an Ontario-based privately-held pharmaceutical developer, to fund clinical trials for a new antidepressant drug that could help millions of people, worldwide, who suffer from Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).

Cleverly named Rellidep™* (after former hockey great, Ron Ellis, long-time champion in the fight against MDD, and UPA’s Vice-President of Public Relations) it would be an understatement to say that there are high-hopes for Phase 2 of clinical trials.

If any of this sounds familiar, it shouldn’t. EFO has never before supported such work. In fact, when it comes to commodity groups, Ontario’s egg board is probably the only group in Canada currently funding the development of a human health drug. And whether you eat eggs or not, depression is very likely a condition that has affected you or someone very close to you.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Website, “depression is a term used to describe a long period when a person is sad to the point of feeling worthless, hopeless and helpless. It can be caused by stress, a loss, or a major disappointment, but sometimes, it seems to happen for no particular reason at all – the result of a chemical imbalance in a person’s body.” Statistics Canada’s 2002 Mental Health and Well-being Survey showed that 5.3 per cent of the Canadian population aged 15 years and over had reported symptoms that met the criteria for MDD in the previous 12 months, including 4.8 per cent for major depression and 1 per cent for bipolar disorder.

When EFO was approached by UPA, they were told that the company had found that fertilized eggs could play a key role in alleviating depression. Given the millions of Canadians battling the disorder and the simple “good news story” that could come of it, it was a no-brainer for Ontario’s egg farmers to get behind the work.

“I got introduced to it last fall,” said EFO chair Scott Graham. “Our general manager, Harry Pelissero, had been introduced probably a year previous to that. We’ve signed a letter of intent for a million dollars that we hope is going to be a stimulus to help [UPA] raise another $7.5 million [to undertake] a second clinical trial.”

Graham is hopeful the results will be as favourable as they were in the first trial. Those findings indicated that Rellidep may be more successful in alleviating depression than other drugs currently on the market, while at the same time resulting in fewer and less disruptive side effects.

“Despite recent advances in treatment, there continues to be great unmet need specific to three key areas in the fight against major depressive disorder,” George Yeung, UPA’s president of Research and Development told the audience in Mississauga. “Early phase trials with Rellidep have demonstrated tremendous promise, as it may offer improvements over currently available drug treatments in three areas. Potentially better efficacy, shorter time-to-clinical-benefit and significantly fewer side-effects were observed.  We are hoping to see similar results in the next phases of our research.”

At a certain stage of development, Yeung explained, a specific molecule is taken from embryonic stem cells in fertilized eggs through a proprietary and patented process. It then forms the foundation of the antidepressant, Rellidep. While he agrees with Graham that early results were encouraging, he emphasized that the sample set was small.

With a mandate to explore potential uses of eggs and expand the market, this investment seemed like a great fit for EFO, although its $1 million won’t kick in until UPA raises the remaining $7.5 million to go ahead with Phase 2 of the clinical trials. EFO, according to Graham, was also keen to keep the research in Canada (specifically Ontario) by supporting UPA. Besides that, he cited the innovative nature of the research, the fact that it is not food-related and its potential economic impact as draws for EFO to infuse money into the project. Speaking to a small group of reporters after the announcement was made, Graham’s emotions were evident when he talked about the humanitarian implications of the new drug, should it reach the market.

There is, however, much work to be done before the drug gets to that point. Yeung explained that even if the money needed for Phase 2 is procured, it could be years before the drug is at the point where it can be prescribed. And likely, Rellidep would be out-licensed to a larger multinational pharmaceutical company after Phase 2, so there are still a lot of unknowns, he added. It could take longer than six years for Rellidep even to be approved for human use.

For now, the needed $7.5 million to start up the next trial phase is the most crucial factor for UPA to tackle in getting the drug to market. For Ron Ellis, though, that figure dwindles in comparison to the statistics around economic loss related to depression. In reference to published studies, he said, “the economic cost of lost productivity in Ontario due to depression, as measured by short-term and long-term disability days, is estimated to have been $8.8 billion in Ontario in 2000. Costs due to depression are estimated to have been over $2 billion in Ontario in 1998.”

Thus, for Ontario’s 440 egg producers, there is a collective holding of breath to see how this potential great news story ends. Stay tuned.

* Rellidep is a trademarked product.

About United Paragon Associates Inc. (UPA)
UPA is an Ontario-based, privately held pharmaceutical developer. For more information, contact George Yeung, UPA’s president of research and development at 416-207-1001 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

On any given day, if you’re so inclined, you can Google “animal welfare,” hit the “news” button and find thousands of postings from around the globe. That fact alone should be proof enough that the issue is noteworthy to the general public. But, if you sift through those articles, there are some that should be of equal concern to farmers, and others that will leave you scratching your head.

We’ve known for years that practices that seem standard to us are often alarming to the average person. But here’s a whole new ball game – the scenario in which even good news animal stories can be turned on their head. Enter the Oakland Press, and a small report on my beloved Major League Baseball team, the Detroit Tigers. Yes that’s right. The Tigers of Comerica Park – my Tigers – recently found themselves the target of severe reprimand related not to their sport, but to animal welfare.

Huh?

Let me explain. In what was meant to be a fundraising event during spring training in Miami, star pitcher Justin Verlander and third baseman Miguel Cabrera posed for publicity stills. In these pictures, they’re holding the club’s namesake, tiger cubs, borrowed from the Dade City Wild Things Zoo. The fundraiser was for the tiger cubs themselves, whose home at the zoo was reportedly destroyed by a tornado in March.

Aww. How completely warm-and-fuzzy!

Well, not to about 1,100 Facebook users who, upon seeing the posted pictures, jumped on the shame bandwagon already started by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). The IFAW, according to this news item, attempted to “shame the Tigers” for “fairly significant public safety and animal welfare issues.” Forget that they were trying to raise money for a replacement home for the tiger cubs; the IFAW said that the Detroit Tigers Baseball Club Inc. shouldn’t be supporting travelling animal displays, which turn a profit “showing off child animals that are disregarded – even killed – after outgrowing their usefulness to the entertainer.”

Oh.

While the IFAW argues that big cats can kill people and that it’s not a game to handle them, I’m personally not sure that they’re on the right track here. I don’t see anything dishonourable about the logic behind the shoot (incidentally, the page was removed as soon after the condemnation began).

Apparently, I’m wrong. Probably biased because of my background and definitely biased because I’m a Tigers fan, what was irresponsible in the eyes of thousands of faceless social media users seemed “A okay” me. Yet, I can’t dismiss them as ignorant do-gooders. This group is increasingly influential and very vocal – and it’s not going away.

When we talk of “accepted practice” in farming, it doesn’t mean anything to Facebook Jane. If “cute-and-fuzzy” is no longer her first impression of a photo op with a tiger cub, it’s a warning to our sector that we need to think differently. We need to consider the perspective of our customers – and our opponents.

I don’t mean just with management either, I mean with how we explain on-farm practices. Defensive answers, given when questioned about animal welfare, don’t assuage our sceptics. And any ball club will tell you that it is easier to succeed when you have a supportive home crowd versus an empty stadium.

Regardless of how you feel about it, your role as a producer of food has changed since your grandfather was farming. No longer are you simply trusted to produce safe chicken, eggs and turkey; now, you’re expected to prove it. Whereas 50 years ago, “agvocacy” wasn’t really necessary because most people were intimately connected with agriculture, today’s shoppers are typically two or more generations removed from the land. So, as a farmer in 2013, it’s your professional duty to help debunk myths about the sector.

If you’re not reading something in the mainstream media that makes your blood boil, you’re probably overhearing uninformed conversations about the safety of food and suddenly finding yourself “on duty.” Regrettably, I recently witnessed a hair stylist orate to the impressionable mind in his chair. He was telling his client, quite seriously, that he buys only organic food because there are all sorts of things in meat, nowadays, even if it is from a real animal. None of it is regulated, did you know? And in Europe they’re making horses into burgers!

There really was only one thing that I could do – that we all could have done. In situations like these, we stop the cynic right there and find ourselves doing a live, unplugged version of Agriculture 101 – the rendition that we reserve for when the uninformed have the bad luck of casting aspersions in our presence. We take the time to explain reality, and while we won’t wholly convert the oblivious offender, we may make him think twice before serving up fallacies with the next cut-and-blow.

It’s an uphill battle to correct misinformation, but consumers are more concerned about their food than ever before. Gaining and retaining their confidence isn’t optional; it’s imperative. And the more proof we’re able to hold up regarding what’s being done to ensure wholesome Canadian-produced food, the better.

The struggle to keep that public support, however, is now a lot easier for Canada’s chicken farmers. On March 19, The Honourable Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, announced that Chicken Farmers of Canada (CFC) has been awarded federal, provincial and territorial government recognition of its On-Farm Food Safety Assurance Program (OFFSAP).

The distinction has been a long time in coming and the convoluted timeline to get to this point only serves as proof that this is not some willy-nilly rubber-stamped program. Developing the system so that it is in line with Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles, then submitting it for technical review to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), and having it implemented, audited and assessed, means that consumers can be assured that chicken farmers are serious about producing a safe, quality product.

It’s one thing to say you’re committed. But, as the longtime CFC mantra illustrates, chicken farmers can say what they’ll do, do what they say, and then prove it when challenged. It’s all in the certifications, the statistics – and the records.

So, when a Canadian chicken farmer overhears one of those ignorant diatribes, he or she can fight the good fight because they have OFFSAP backing them up. And that’s one more step towards sustaining confidence in Canadian chicken purchases at the grocery store level.

Congratulations, CFC.

Unless I’m distracted, when I step on an “up” escalator, I think about The Honourable Eugene Whelan. If I do, you can bet that a wry smile crosses my face.

As editor of a magazine focused on an industry that operates under supply management, it would be shameful not to acknowledge that Mr. Whelan, the father of our very marketing system passed last month.  But, as a writer, how does one pen an original column that the audience hasn’t read or heard a hundred times before in the many tributes that have been used as introductions, the biographical profiles that have been printed in agricultural journals, and the countless interviews Mr. Whelan himself gave during his lifetime?

How do you do that if you weren’t even born when Mr. Whelan was fighting on behalf of producers and you didn’t really “know” him?

Ah, but I did encounter him. Twice. And I felt and saw first-hand the effect he had on people.

A student at the University of Guelph, I met him initially in Leamington on a tour of a canning plant. I’d heard so much about him that his Stetson might well be a halo. What could I have said to him that he didn’t already know? Not much.
I went with unoriginal.  “Hello, Sir.  It’s an honour to meet you.”

“Don’t call me Sir. Call me Gene.”

“Yes, Sir.”

That went well, I thought, afterwards.

Years later, in March of 2005, at the Chicken Farmers of Ontario (CFO) Annual General Meeting, it was announced that former federal Agriculture Ministers, Mr. Whelan and his former colleague, The Honourable John Wise, had agreed to serve as Honourary Co-Chairs of FarmGate5 in support of Ontario’s dairy and poultry farmers.*

My job, as an employee of CFO, was to make sure that Mr. Whelan was in the ballroom after lunch, so that when he was introduced, he was waiting in the wings.

Easy peasy.

Anyone who has been to a convention at the DoubleTree hotel near Toronto airport, knows the layout.  The main conference Plaza ballrooms are separated from the guest room block by a long, narrow breezeway.  It’s only about 300 feet long, but it is a good haul when you’re in a rush.

I was in a rush.  

Mr. Whelan was in a dining room at the opposite end of that breezeway and I had just less than seven minutes to track him and get him to where we needed him. So, I ran.

Finding him wasn’t the issue.  The green Stetson was easy to locate. The problem was, a sea of faces surrounded it, and all of them were alight with smiles and laughter. Mr. Whelan was in the middle of what looked to be a good story.

That was definitely not helpful.

I stood watching for a few seconds and then thought “I have to,” so I barged up to everyone and broke up the revelry.
“Excuse me, Mr. Whelan, Sir. I need you to come with me.”  

That look…oh yes.  The look you give when someone has just done something so nervy that they don’t even realize how nervy it was.

I wasn’t quite sure which way this was going to go.

But then, quite companionably, he looped his arm through mine and told me to lead the way. Like I said … easy.

But, did I really know who I had on my arm? Did I realize at the time that Mr. Whelan had served as the Liberal MP for Essex-Windsor in southwestern Ontario from 1962 until 1984? Yes, I knew that. Or that he served as Agriculture Minister under then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau from 1972 through 1984, except for nine months in 1979-80 when the Conservatives took office? Sure I did. 

Did I know he was so popular? Nope!

Trying to get Mr. Whelan to that room three furlongs away was akin to getting water back into a faucet.  No sooner had he told me to lead the way, than a producer delegate stopped him, wanting to shake his hand and chat for a while.  I fended that person off, only to get another few feet before yet another glad-hander stopped us again.  

And so it went. In the space of that cursed mile of carpet, I would bet that Mr. Whelan was stopped at least twenty times.  Frankly, I had never seen anything like it with any politician and probably won’t again.

At one point in the segmented journey, still arm-in-arm, he looked down at me and said, “Are you going to be in trouble?”

I replied “No, Sir.  But at this moment in time, it is highly inconvenient that you are so popular.” And he chuckled.

The only thing left now was to navigate the small escalator that would take us up one floor to the plaza foyer.

The escalator at the hotel is narrow, single-file only, and it only goes one way – up or down.  It was moving up so I chose to use it and stood aside to let Mr. Whelan on.

“No, ladies first,” he insisted. 

So I stepped on, a few feet behind someone. And then I turned around to talk to him – but there was just a great fat clump of air where he should have been standing, on the stair below me.  Instead, he was still at the bottom, talking to another delegate who wanted a few moments with him.  The escalator carried me upwards and away from him and I watched helplessly as he fell into easy conversation with this new devotee.

In blind panic I started trying to step back down the escalator until someone stepped on and blocked my way. I gave up then, and resignedly let the thing take me to the top. I had to laugh. What else was there to do?

The minute I stepped off that escalator, though, I ran around to the stairs, down the zigzags (what was wrong with a simple straight staircase anyway and who designed them?) and finally, caught up with Mr. Whelan, still engrossed in spirited conversation with a congregation who, at that precise moment, were Public Enemy #1 through #9, as far as I was concerned. Reunited, we set off again, only to be confronted again by more fans at the top of the escalator. Alas, by this time, we were close enough that more escorts materialized to help me and eventually, Mr. Whelan did make it into the room…fashionably late.

But as I surrendered him to higher-ranked handlers, I stopped in the doorway and thought about what had just happened.  Even as he was led to the stage, people in the room were stopping him to shake his hand, slap him on the back and have their one-minute audience. I was astounded. How does a politician get to be that popular? In agriculture?

The fact is, The Honourable Eugene Whelan was a farmer’s advocate – and farmers knew it. His reputation preceded him, and time spent with him was a privilege.

As a rookie, on that day in March of 2005, I realized a lot about the man under that legendary green hat and just how much farmers appreciated his efforts.  His legacy lives on in the form of supply management, but the personal memories he left with people will also be treasured.  

What an extraordinary man. How fortunate I am to have been able to take a leisurely afternoon stroll with him.
*For more on this, see The Back Page, by Roy Maxwell.

It wasn’t a huge surprise when the verdict came. Anticipation had been building since September of 2012, so it was just a matter of time until the validation confirmed it.  I found out via text from my Dad: “Did u ere? It was Dick 3 in Leics.”

Relevant to me because I grew up less than 20 miles away from the impromptu gravesite of King Richard III, who perished at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Deformed folly of Shakespearean mockery, he died with a great big hole in his head. I probably tromped all over him at some point on my many trips to Leicester.

Confirmation of the skeleton’s identity was the fruit of technology.  The fact that, five centuries later, two direct descendants were tracked down and asked to provide DNA samples was amazing. The detail that one of them was Canadian-born Michael Ibsen, is  a convenient segue to come back to this side of the Atlantic.

I don’t need to unroll some parchment and make a proclamation that traceability is a buzzword in Canadian agriculture.

Yet not all agree it’s a good thing. Proponents tend to regale the benefits when we’re talking international trade.

Innovators and suppliers of traceability technology love it, and early-adopters are trying to stay ahead of what they see as inevitable legislation – the guillotine of mandate will be dropped someday, so why not start now?  The rest of us need a little more convincing, but usually fall into the categories of early or late majority.  The laggards will have a few choice words and only do it when there is no alternative.

My point is that traceability too, has been brought to us by technology. Five hundred years ago, when Richard III was dealt the final blow, probably by a halberd (an axe blade topped with a spike), he had no clue that his body would be identified centuries later by fancy processes called “genetic fingerprinting” and “radio-carbon dating.”

The fact is, progress doesn’t wait for late-adopters.  Change is the only constant and if progress didn’t happen, this magazine wouldn’t have existed for 100 years, because on-farm practices would be stagnant.

As you read on, and peruse this month’s articles, reflect on their common link of forward-thinking and how it can benefit your farm operation.  And remember, technology can only help you if it’s available to you at your time of need.

Think about what you could be implementing on-farm that may not be needed now, but could be very advantageous when the time, season or legislation comes.

Today, what the Baird purported to be Richard III’s last words are infamous. Shakespeare was illustrating that the value of things can change suddenly if you don’t have them at hand when you need them (in his drastic example, a simple thing such as a horse to ride became more important than having a kingdom to rule). Without his trusty steed, Surrey, Richard III found himself at a terrible disadvantage and lost his life – and the throne – to King Henry VII.

Maybe it’s not exactly life or death, but I’ll lay a gauntlet down that the absence of a particular technology in the right situation could seem as unnerving as Richard III’s comprehension of imminent defeat at Bosworth.

Most of us who watched have already forgotten the winners at the 85th Academy Awards, which were held in Hollywood last month. Apart from the fact that this magazine is 15 years older than Oscar, I do remember that during the program, I was impressed that in just nine decades, the film industry has undergone a revolution. Remarkably, it has progressed from silent to surround-sound, from black and white to high-definition colour and from primitive Chroma-Key scenes to computer-generated imagery. That’s an astounding example of progress.

Back in the infancy of movies, audiences were amazed by Buster Keaton’s falling house stunt in the movie Steamboat Bill, Jr. During the making of the picture, accounts say that Keaton drove a nail into the ground to mark where he should stand while the 4,000 pound house facade fell around him. An open window, which conveniently prevented his on-screen demise, was just big enough to give him two inches of clearance on either side.

Five decades later, Canadian agriculture pulled off an incredible feat of its own – the advent of supply management for certain sectors. The transformation was perhaps not as dramatic as those that moviegoers had witnessed on the big screen by this time, but words like “profitable” and “competitive” could be used in the same breath as “Canadian poultry production.” The system still has its critics today, but as with the Oscars, there are people who are very happy with the outcome, people who think it’s not fair and people who couldn’t care less.

Some people still wonder how Keaton built up the nerve to attempt his 1928 stunt. Let’s not forget – he didn’t know it was going to turn out all right. He could have been seriously hurt, which may have delayed shooting and impacted the film’s revenue, or worse, he could have died.

Likewise, the pioneers of the poultry industry didn’t know what lay ahead as they sat around boardroom tables met with government ad infinitum and laboured towards a system that could work for producers – again, in the pursuit of profit. The risk in this case wasn’t individual injury but the breakdown of an entire sector.

Today, supply management is under greater threat than ever of ending up on the cutting room floor.  But, whether you are a fan or not, it should not filter your respect for those who determinedly fought to create it. The poultry industry doesn’t have its own version of the Academy Awards, but it does have its Keatons . . . and countless other heroes and heroines who, over the years, have helped to shape the industry we have today.

Funnily enough, Buster Keaton later said, “I was mad at the time or I would never have done the thing,” when asked about his falling house. With retrospect like that, it’s a good thing he was never a leader in Canada’s agricultural industry.

We hope you enjoy this special anniversary edition of Canadian Poultry magazine as much as we’ve enjoyed 100 years of covering the industry’s red-carpet moments, stunts and stars.

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