Consumer Issues
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.
Jan. 16, 2016 – Canadians looking for the real story about their food can get it directly from the source online with virtual visits to farms and processing plants. Farm & Food Care is proud to present its latest national outreach initiative – FarmFood360°.
 
Using 360 cameras and virtual reality technology, the new FarmFood360° website gives Canadians the chance to tour real, working farms and food processing plants, all without putting on boots. It’s the latest version of the highly successful Virtual Farm Tours initiative, which was first launched in 2007.
 
“Canadians want to know more about their food, but they are also increasingly removed from its production,” says Ian McKillop, chair of Farm & Food Care Canada. “Changing technology also means they are looking for and finding information in different ways.
 
“FarmFood360° keeps pace with both these factors; it uses modern technology to immerse them right in the process, and address their questions in the most compelling way possible.”
 
Farm & Food Care partnered with Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Ltd. and Dairy Farmers of Canada to add three new tours to the FarmFood360°  website – a dairy farm with a Voluntary Milking System, as well as two individual milk and cheese processing facilities. Visitors can access these tours on tablets and desktop computers, as well as through mobile phones and VR (Virtual Reality) viewers. Interviews with the farmers and plant employees involved in each business have also been added.
 
Both dairy processing facility tours were created in partnership with Gay Lea Foods Co-operative Ltd. Steve Dolson, chair of Gay Lea Foods, says “Farm & Food Care has created an accessible and practical way for us to open the doors to two of our processing facilities – locations that are usually restricted to ensure food safety and quality.”
 
“Gay Lea Foods is pleased to provide this unique opportunity for Canadians to see how milk from family farms is transformed into the milk, cream and cheese they know and love.”
 
Michael Barrett, president and CEO of Gay Lea Foods, added “we are tremendously proud of our employees and happy to highlight the passion, care and dedication that goes into the wholesome products our company is known for.”
 
As an original partner in the first Virtual Farm Tours project, Dairy Farmers of Canada again worked with Farm & Food Care to film a dairy farm using Voluntary Milking System in Prince Edward Island. These tours compliment the two dairy farm tours already on the site – featuring farms that use both free stall and tie stall milking technologies.
 
“Using new technology to bring farm life to Canadians is both exciting and a critical part of food production,” says Wally Smith, president of Dairy Farmers of Canada. “This modern platform is a great way of doing just that. These immersive tours open barn doors to show the passion and care our farmers put into the food they produce.”
 
This national initiative is being launched with a newly rebranded and interactive website, www.FarmFood360.ca. The site features all 23 farms originally featured on the Virtual Farm Tour platform plus the three new virtual reality tours. Additional tours will be added later in 2017.
In Lower Saxony, Germany, Stefan Teepker has just spent 25,000 € (approximately $36,500 CAD) on a new on-farm visitor gallery complete with food vending machine, video system and 24-hour viewing area on one of his poultry farms.

It’s not that he’s expecting the vending machine to be a big money maker – he needs 15 € a day in sales to make the venture work – but he’s hoping it will attract the non-farming public to his farm to learn more about how broiler chickens are raised, housed and treated in Germany.

Teepker unveiled his concept to a group of visiting international agricultural journalists who were touring northern and eastern Germany this past July.

It’s not easy being a farmer in Lower Saxony, where agriculture minister Christian Meyer represents the Green Party. Strict animal welfare rules, limitations on new barn constructions and looming new clean air laws mean farmers have a lot more to worry about than just raising healthy, quality livestock and poultry.

To Teepker’s way of thinking, that’s precisely why someone has to show people where their food comes from, and there’s nobody better to do that than farmers themselves.

“We have to show how we produce the meat people eat and with this new viewing area, people can come here any time to watch our birds,” he explained while looking into his bright, modern barn filled with healthy, contented birds. “Some farmers say we can’t do this job, someone else should – but who else would that be?”

Doing nothing is not an option as the pressure from those opposed to livestock farming is already making itself felt.

For example, even enriched poultry cages will be phased out entirely in favour of all cage-free production by 2025, beak trimming will be banned by the end of 2016, and culling of male chicks will no longer be permitted in Lower Saxony by the end of 2017.

The state has also committed to reducing antibiotic use in agriculture by 50 per cent in five years, resulting in farmers having to notify the government each time they purchase antibiotics for livestock use.

And according to Teepker, Lower Saxony is no longer issuing building permits for new livestock barns, citing environmental concerns, and that it is very difficult to even secure permission to renew existing facilities. Farmers who wish to expand their production have no choice but to buy existing farms or relocate to other parts of Germany, he said.

“We built our first barn in 2009, where we got a permit in 12 months and built in six – it was two years in total from thought to bird. Now it is up to six years,” he said.

New clean air laws from the European Union designed to reduce emissions from intensive livestock operations will mean new costs too, he added.

Teepker farms together with his younger brother Matthias near Handrup, Lower Saxony, about 360 km north of Frankfurt. He’s in charge of the broiler side of their operation, which also includes pigs, biogas production and 350 hectares (approximately 865 acres) of crops.

In 2013 he purchased the farm where he has added the viewing gallery and renovated the 10-year old facilities. And although he considered expansion into Eastern Germany several years ago, he ultimately decided against it due to the high cost of farms.

Teepker is not alone among farmers in Germany adding viewing galleries into their livestock barns, but notes that his goes above and beyond the simple window and information card that most provide.

Videos available on demand, for example, demonstrate other aspects of his farm and the life cycle of his birds. Feed samples show what birds eat and feeders and waterers are on display to demonstrate how they eat and drink.

And the vending machine, which Teepker has stocked with chicken products, can sell anything from a single egg to a five kilogram bag of potatoes. This particular farm happens to be on a busy public cycling trail, so Teepker hopes his location – and the cold drinks he is including in the vending machine – will help draw people in.



If the viewing room and vending machine are successful on the broiler barn, there are plans for a similar installation on one of their pig barns too.

Facebook is his biggest audience, where “Landwirtschaft Teepker” and regular posts of photos and updates about farm activities have garnered more than 2,100 likes, but he’s also a keen supporter of video. His most popular online video, called a look into chicken production, has logged more than 78,000 views to date.

“YouTube is the new Google so you need to have video even if it isn’t the best,” he believes.

But nothing beats a face to face connection, which is why the Teepkers have also reached out to local schools, starting about five years ago with inviting kindergarten classes out to the farm and expanding to include twice yearly classroom visits with small birds. They also sponsor children’s soccer jerseys in the community.

And those public education efforts seem to be paying off.

“We are noticing changes in attitudes with parents and teachers – “where are the cages” is now the most asked question,” Teepker said, adding the most people don’t know that German broilers are not raised in cages. “I think and hope that we are doing a good job.”

Yet despite some success, Teepker is also a realist about the public pressures facing farmers and the challenges of reaching out to consumers who are increasingly distanced from farming and food production.

“This is a first step, but the discussion will never finish,” he believes.

Producers face a great many challenges, from increasing red tape to unaffordable land prices from market instability to climate change. But there’s one challenge that Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) CEO Tim Lambert thinks will trump the others: social license. Addressing the challenge head on, EFC created EggCentric TV, an online television network where eggs – and those who produce them – come first.

What is social license?
Generally speaking, social license refers to a community’s acceptance or approval of the businesses that operate within it. Social license sits outside of the regulatory system. It is not something that can be purchased; it is earned through transparency, solid communication, meaningful dialogue, and ethical and responsible behavior. The concept of social license isn’t new. In recent years, though, it has become increasingly important for businesses, like those operated by Canada’s farming community, to connect with the general public to establish open, genuine dialogue.

“I believe that the whole concept of social license and public trust is the next big challenge in not just agriculture, but the whole of society in business, faces,” said Lambert.  Transparency is key, he continued. “More and more, we need to communicate who we are, what we do and how we’re doing it.

Control the media, control the message
For too long, mainstream media has had the cornerstone on story telling. And while farmers were in the fields or in the barns, mainstream media was working on its next big exposé.

“The problem we have is who tells our story,” said Lambert. “On the cage side of the debate, the story is told by animal welfare or animal rights activists.”

Ordinary journalists, said Lambert, have tried to put “feel good” stories out and failed. “The major newspapers choose not to cover it from our side because there’s no excitement in telling a good news story,” he said.

Lambert knew, though, that Canada’s egg farmers had plenty of good stories to tell, so instead of seeking traditional coverage he decided to sidestep it altogether. The result: EggCentric TV.

“It’s a way of bypassing traditional media who will frame the story the way they want to tell it, not the way it is,” said Lambert. “We will be able to use this platform in so many ways, across the world, to tell the story of the egg industry and what a brilliant story it is.”

TELLING THE GOOD NEWS STORIES
When Lambert first starting exploring the idea of EggCentric TV he worried that there wouldn’t be enough content to justify the project. In order for the project to be a success, he knew that content would have to be regularly updated. Once they got going, though, he and his team quickly realized that content is virtually endless. “We started by thinking in terms of all of the cooking programs, so celebrity chefs and recipes,” he said. “But there’s a much bigger opportunity. A much broader opportunity.”

Today, EggCentric TV features healthy recipes created by Canada’s top celebrity chefs. Individual programs highlight the nutritional value of eggs, and show viewers how eggs are produced. They focus on animal care, different housing systems and how eggs are produced sustainably.

“EggCentric TV is the absolute ideal platform for us to build our public trust and social license,” said Lambert. “Why? Because it’s our platform.”

Sarah Caron is the lead on the EggCentric TV project. She says that the platform allows them to reach an ever-growing population of Internet users and digital video viewers. “Households around the world with connected TVs are expected to double in the next five years,” she said. “That is a growth of 835 percent in just 10 years.

“Streaming media gives consumers more convenience, more options and better programming than traditional TV can offer,” she continued. “This gives consumers control over what they watch – whenever and wherever they want.”

EggCentric TV is available through Apple TV, as well as Roku, a streaming media player that connect your TV to your home Internet connection. Roku is available in the US, the UK, Ireland, France and Mexico. Each month, new countries are added to that list.

“Eggcentric TV has been successful on Roku from the beginning, averaging over 1,000 visits per week from global users,” said Caron. “Worldwide interest in eggs is amazing. Eggcentric TV features engaging video content from social influencers and celebrity chefs. It aims to share simple and delicious recipes, [and offers] tricks and tips that inspire consumers to create and enjoy egg dishes at home.”

To build excitement, Roku and her team load content and share it on social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube. At last count, total social engagements, likes and retweets, reached over 300,000. Total impressions, the number of times an ad has been seen, reached 25.5 million.

“And we just have our own Canadian content up,” said Lambert.  

While EFC is committed to new content every week, the organization hopes that egg producers from other nations will join them in sharing the message. They too, he said, should view social license as the next big thing.

Numbers found on cans of tuna provide the combination to unlock a wealth of information. It’s yet another example of the food system recognizing consumer demand for information and embracing transparency.

Chicken of the Sea’s traceability website allows consumers to enter a 10-to-15 digit number found on the bottom of certain tuna products. In return, the consumer can read a description of the species; where the seafood was caught, including a map and a species-specific stock status report from the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation; the fishing method used; the fishing vessel; where the seafood was processed; where the seafood was canned; and general information on the company’s sustainability initiatives. The company says it will eventually expand the program to its entire shelf-stable line.

“It is important for our customers to have an opportunity to know the story behind their fish,” said Chicken of the Sea’s director of sustainability. “Traceability is an essential step.”

Former New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman recently suggested that the long and contentious GMO labeling law debate could force a transparency revolution. There’s no doubt that farmers and food makers need to be aggressive in opening their doors and letting consumers see how food is produced, but in reality, a transparency revolution is already underway.

Chicken of the Sea’s new program is a good example, but only one of many.

Hershey’s commitment to increased transparency and move to simpler ingredients goes back to 2015. The company’s website now provides an A-to-Z glossary of all its ingredients with easy-to-understand descriptions.

Leading food, beverage and consumer products companies last December unveiled SmartLabel to empower consumers to access a myriad of information with a simple bar code scan or click of a website.  The technology puts nutritional information, ingredients, allergens, third-party verifications, social compliance programs, usage instructions, advisories and safe handling instructions at consumers’ fingertips in a standardized format.

At California’s JS West and Companies, a leading egg producer, cameras in the barns allow online visitors to see what the hens are doing 24 hours a day. Visitors to the site are welcome to leave comments about what they see.

New Jersey-based Catelli Brothers has installed a 12-camera system at its veal plant that monitors the facility in real time. A third-party generates a daily report on animal treatment.

At Indiana’s Fair Oaks Farms, the doors are open for thousands of visitors every year to look through glass walls to see how real dairies produce milk and how pigs are born and cared for. The founders of the company say they have nothing to hide and want the public to see how their animals are treated.

CFI research proves that increased transparency is a powerful tool to earn consumer trust. People today expect transparency and want to see how food is produced. Consumers want the ability to engage and get questions answered promptly and in easy-to-understand language. They want to see how food is produced, who’s producing it, what’s in it and how it impacts their health.

A growing number of farms and food companies are engaged in the transparency revolution and pulling back the curtain, which should be applauded. Critics who intentionally disregard the progress toward greater transparency only serve to discourage it by refusing to give credit where credit is due. So, food system critics are encouraged to be transparent about genuine progress among food producers just as producers who have yet to embrace transparency need to be encouraged to build on the positive momentum. There is no denying the ability of transparency to increase
consumer trust. n

Reprinted with permission from the Center for Food Integrity (CFI).  CFI’s vision is to lead the public discussion to build trust in today’s food system and facilitate dialog with the food system to create better alignment with consumer expectations. For more information, visit: www.foodintegrity.org

 

It should be evident after reading our cover feature this month that agriculture has a lot of work to do to regain the trust of Canadian consumers with respect to methods of production and the food products produced.

While it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone in the agriculture business that consumers are confused about food, just how confused they really are is perhaps worse than originally thought.

In early June, Farm & Food Care Canada held a “Public Trust Summit” in Ottawa, Ont., with the intention of “encouraging continuous collaborative discussions amongst farm and food system leaders, while developing concrete actions for earning public trust.”  Participants included representatives covered the gamut of food production, including all livestock sectors, crop and seed production, to government and academia.  

Farm & Food Care Canada launched a new division at the event known as the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI). It’s an international affiliate of the U.S. Center for Food Integrity, which has been assisting the food system “meaningfully engage with their most important audiences on issues that matter” for nearly 10 years, and was the first organization to introduce the concept of building public trust.

Before its launch the CCFI conducted a web-based survey earlier in 2016 of approximately 2500 Canadians to get a benchmark on the trust the average Canadian has in Canadian food and food production.  The respondents were then segmented into three groups - “Moms”, “Foodies”, and “Millenials” – to gain additional insight, as these groups are considered the most influential, and interested, in information about food.

93 per cent of consumers in the survey indicated they knew little, or nothing, about farming.  However, compared to a similar survey conducted by Farm & Food Care in 2006, Canadians’ positive impressions of agriculture have increased by 20 per cent. This, combined with the fact that 60 per cent of respondents indicated they would like to know more about farming, is an opportunity for Canadian agriculture to make a connection with consumers, Farm & Food Care Canada CEO Crystal Mackay said at the event.

What will be the challenge moving forward is how to make this connection.  The CCFI and Farm & Food Care are working on five action points, but made it clear that “re-gaining public trust must be everyone’s responsibility.”

Opportunity exists for farmers and farm organizations to help regain trust as the CCFI survey results showed that 69 per cent of respondents favourably viewed farmers as credible sources of information, and 52 per cent of respondents felt farmer associations were credible sources.

Unfortunately, results indicated that animal rights organizations are also viewed with some credibility, so it will be paramount moving forward that farmers and farm groups try to engage with consumers in more effective ways.  It’s the clear the old methods of reaching consumers aren’t hitting the mark, but Mackay says the entire industry needs to share successes and failures in engagement with each other and “commit to making mistakes”, reminding attendees that the whole concept of public trust is new territory.

But she stressed that fear of failure can’t hold an organization back.  As she said at the Summit, “if you’re not making mistakes, you’re probably not doing enough.” 

 

In last month’s magazine, our cover story outlined some of the very real hurdles the Canadian agriculture industry faces to gaining the trust of the public to produce its food. Our Perspectives column this month (see page 38) emphasizes the fact that 60 per cent of the public wants more information on farming. Ian McKillop says ensuring the farming community finds a way to connect is an immediate priority.

However, this will be a difficult task, made more difficult by increased media interest in highlighting undercover videos taken by animal activist groups alleging neglect and abuse on Canadian farms. Such videos and allegations are visually disturbing to many and play on human emotions, which unfortunately makes for great TV and headlines.

With the decline in the quality of print media and the evolving digital media world, journalists don’t have time anymore to tell all sides of a story, or even do a simple interview. If an undercover video and/or press release arrives on their desk nicely packaged and easy to put online within a few minutes, then that’s what happens. It’s a sad reality.

Unlike the sensationalistic tactics that were once employed by animal rights groups, the use of undercover videos has resulted in changes in how farm animals will be raised for food in the future. We know first-hand that retailers and food companies have paid attention.

Animal rights groups have become much smarter in their approach – not only through the use of media but through the law as well. And it’s the latter that I think the industry needs to keep its eye on.

Remember Proposition 2? Prop 2 was one of the first successful uses of the law in North America to mandate the desire of an animal rights group (in this case, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which was the driving force behind it).

The HSUS realized too late that the wording used in Prop 2 allowed for the use of enriched colony cages, something the organization never intended. The end goal was, of course, to have hens in aviaries or free-range pasture systems. This was a bit of an “oopsie” on its part and one I’m sure it won’t make again.

In Canada, the founder of Animal Justice is a lawyer, as are its Executive Director and recently appointed Director of Farmed Animal Advocacy. This group has been successful at challenging existing laws and policies on animal and animal product use.  

Earlier this year, a private member’s bill, Bill C-246 (the “Modernizing Animal Protections Act”), tabled by Ontario MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, had its first reading. Although most members’ bills are not passed, watch this one closely: if passed as written, it could have implications for slaughter, transport, research and perhaps even rearing animals. The bill can be accessed at www.openparliament.ca.

Late last year in Quebec, a bill was passed that recognizes animals as “sentient beings” rather than things. The University of Ottawa recently announced it is offering a course in animal law this fall semester. One of the instructors is a recent UOttawa law student, Justine Perron, who founded the university’s Animal Protection Association.  Perron told the Ottawa Citizen in August that she formed the association after seeing videos depicting cruelty. She says one way to create change is to tackle these issues at the legal level. “I hope more lawyers will have the knowledge in that sphere of law and be more interested in that cause.”

Make no mistake, Perron and other lawyers are highly motivated to be an advocate for the welfare of animals. The poultry industry needs to gird itself and present another equally compelling voice on behalf of animals.

Over the last several years, the retail price relationship between beef, pork and chicken favoured chicken, making it an attractive and competitive protein choice for consumers.

May 25, 2016 - Recognized welfare outcome assessments within farm assurance schemes have shown a reduction in feather loss and improvement in the welfare of UK cage-free laying hens, according to the findings of a study from the AssureWel project by the University of Bristol, RSPCA and the Soil Association. READ MORE

May 14, 2016 - The trend of backyard chickens for a farm-to-table egg experience is growing, with the latest business, called Rent The Chicken, opening in Greater Victoria. Here is a list of backyard chicken regulations for some major Canadian cities: 


- The City of Edmonton runs an urban hens pilot project and has 
issued 50 licences. Its Community Services Committee is studying 
potential issues and concerns associated with keeping urban hens and 
will report back to the city next year. 

- Vancouver allows a maximum of four hens per lot, but no 
roosters are permitted. Residents are not allowed to slaughter the 
chickens in the backyard. 

- Whitehorse residents can have six hens on their urban property 
as long as they apply for a permit, have the hens for personal use 
only and don't sell the eggs, manure, meat or other chicken 
products. 

- Victoria has no backyard chicken limits, but the numbers of 
chickens must be consistent with the residents' personal egg use. No 
roosters are allowed. Tips on the city's website include building a 
decent coop: “Don't build a chicken coop out of three sheets of 
plywood and a hockey net unless you want to meet an Animal Control 
Officer.'' 

- Calgary, Winnipeg and Toronto do not allow backyard chickens, 
although bylaw officers in Toronto will only investigate if 
neighbours complain. 

- Halifax has endured numerous backyard chicken debates, but so 
far the city does not permit chickens. 

- In Montreal, some boroughs allow chickens, including in 
Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve where chickens are allowed in pens in 
eight community gardens. 

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2016

 

May 1, 2016 - Wholesale giant Costco reportedly wants to build a poultry processing plant in Dodge County, Nebraska to produce one-third of the chicken it sells every year. READ MORE 

Weather can create significant challenges or opportunities for Canadian agriculture. Photo by Janet Kanters.

Jan. 5, 2015 - Farm Credit Canada (FCC) agriculture economists provide their best insights on the five most significant trends that could impact Canadian agriculture in 2016.

"As economists, we like to challenge ourselves by collecting and analyzing the data to provide the best forecasts for producers to help with their long-term planning and decision-making," said J.P. Gervais, FCC's chief agricultural economist. "This can be challenging in a vibrant and dynamic Canadian agriculture industry, where consumer demand and export opportunities can have as much impact on farming as the weather."

Weather patterns could cause supply disruptions and opportunities

There's no question weather can create significant challenges or opportunities for Canadian agriculture.

Drought in Russia and the Ukraine, for example, could lower wheat production and have a positive impact on demand for Canadian wheat. El Nino – a phenomena where a large band of warm ocean water creates unusual weather conditions and disrupts growing seasons – is expected to lower palm production in Indonesia and Malaysia and chickpea production in India.

"Canadian pul ses will be needed to shore up reduced supplies from India and low carry-over stocks. This will create strong demand and higher prices for Canadian pulse crops in 2016," said Gervais, noting the United Nations coincidentally proclaimed 2016 as the International Year of Pulses.

"Our commodity outlooks rely heavily on what happens in other parts of the world, so it's always good to keep an eye on weather systems that might disrupt or increase supplies of the same or alternative commodities," he said.

Price-conscious consumers demand more food choice

Consumers are demanding more food choice, but are they willing to pay for it?

That's the question on the minds of many producers and food processors as they face growing pressure to meet complex and sometimes conflicting consumer demand. Consumer choice includes fresh or processed, healthy or indulgent, local or global – with affordability being a common thread.

"Canada has traditionally thrived producing safe, high-quality agriculture commodities, but producers are now facing the challenge of sorting through a number of mixed messages and changing food preferences," Gervais said. "At the same time, producers face growing public concern about modern food production, while trying to produce food efficiently at a cost that consumers are willing to pay."

Gervais said consumer demand for food diversity has created a trade deficit where imports of processed food exceed our exports (by $1.9 billion in 2010 to $3.5 billion in 2014). "As Canadian producers see more opportunities to grow a wider variety of food, we expect the trade deficit trend to slow and begin to shrink," he said.

Economic stars continue to shine bright for agriculture

Don't let your guard down, but low interest rates and a weak dollar will continue to contribute to favourable economic conditions for Canadian agriculture in 2016, according to Gervais.

"Interest rates should remain very low, perhaps with some slight upward pressure on fixed rates for three- and five-year mortgages," Gervais said. "But the overall economic environment is expected to be favourable for farming operations, agribusinesses and food processors in 2016."

Gervais said weak oil prices and a different outlook for interest rates between Canada and the United States will continue to put downward pressure on the Canadian dollar before it strengthens in the second half of the year.

Profits could be squeezed by growing supplies of some commodities

Agriculture commodity prices are expected to see an overall decrease in 2016, as there is an oversupply of some commodities and growing supplies for others. The low Canadian dollar, however, will help support profit margins for grain and oilseed producers, which may help offset any price decrease, Gervais said.

Gervais predicts the livestock industry will see mixed results in 2016. Cattle prices are expected to retreat, resulting in tighter profit margins for feedlots. Cow-calf operations are expected to remain profitable, yet face tighter margins than in previous years. Hog operation profits are projected to stay in line with the five-year average, benefiting from strong pork demand from China. Profits in the dairy sector may be vulnerable due to dairy ingredient imports and continued low world dairy prices.

"Lower feed costs are expected to support overall margins in the livestock sector and demand for beef is expected to increase – both domestically and globally – which is good news for producers." Gervais said.

Canadian farm debt will continue to climb, but at a slower pace

Strong farm receipts over the past five years have led to increased investment in Canadian agriculture and higher farmland values. This will level out and sales of new farm equipment will likely see little improvement following overall slow sales in 2015. As a result the growth in farm debt is expected to slow, according to Gervais.

"Producers are re-evaluating their earning potential based on weaker commodity prices and their investment in farmland," he said. "A weak Canadian dollar also makes farm inputs more expensive, so producers are placing a priority on streamlining their operations."

The good news is Canada's net farm income has kept pace with farm debt over the past five years, which reflects a strong and vibrant agriculture industry," Gervais said.

For further agriculture economic insights and analysis, read the latest FCC Ag Economist blog post at www.fcc.ca/AgEconomist.

 

 

 

Like broilers, it is probable that daylength has an impact on both productivity and welfare in turkeys and therefore it is economically relevant to understand its consequences. Welfare issues seen in broiler research may be more pronounced in turkey production where age and bird size at market have changed considerably over the last decade.  These changes likely mean new challenges for modern strains as previous research was performed some time ago on birds that did not grow as quickly or reach the same market body weights.  The challenges include both bird productivity and welfare.  However, research and literature are lacking on the effects of lighting programs on modern commercial turkeys.  

THE APPROACH
M.Sc. student, Catherine Vermette, Dr. Hank Classen and the research team at the University of Saskatchewan aimed to determine the effect of graded levels of daylength on the welfare and productivity of modern commercial turkeys.  A more complete understanding of lighting effects can be achieved by using graded levels of daylength to allow prediction of response criteria associated with productivity and welfare.

Productivity and welfare parameters assessed included growth, mortality, meat yield, behaviour, bird mobility and leg abnormalities, skin lesions and ocular measures.  Productivity parameters assessed were not only economically relevant, but applicable to welfare when behaviour and bird health measures were incorporated.  These  measures together provide a description of welfare in turkeys.  Results will provide scientific evidence for recommendations on lighting programs that are known to positively affect the welfare of turkeys and optimize productivity in Canadian flocks.

THE EXPERIMENTS
Four graded levels of daylength (14, 17, 20, and 23 hours) were used to raise male and female turkeys to 18 weeks of age.  The research included two trials with two replications per trial.  Each trial consisted of 4 lighting treatments with two room replications for each lighting program. Productivity and welfare parameters were assessed at regular intervals during the course of the trials.

THE FINDINGS
This study’s findings show that daylength affected turkey productivity in an age and gender dependent manner and use of longer daylength during the production cycle of males and female turkeys also affected a number of other measures indicative of reduced welfare.

At young ages, growth rate increased with increasing daylength, although this was reversed in older birds, sooner in males than females.  In terms of mortality, shorter daylength treatments had beneficial effects on older birds and had a more pronounced effect on males.  Carcass characteristics were affected by daylength in an age, but not gender dependent manner.  Furthermore, the incidence of culling was increased with 23 hour daylength regardless of gender or age.  

In general, longer daylengths had negative welfare implications in regards to turkey health and behaviour for both genders, but with a more pronounced effect in males.  Mobility decreased with longer daylength for both genders, but the proportion of birds with poorer mobility associated with pain was only evident in males.  Similarly, the incidence of breast blisters increased with increasing daylength, only in males.    

THE RECOMMENDATIONS
Lighting program recommendations derived from this research for meat turkeys are dependent on gender and the age at which birds are marketed.  For both genders regardless of age beyond early brooding, 23 hours of daylength was found unacceptable due to reduced welfare, with birds experiencing poorer mobility, increased ocular size and increased mortality. In addition, for toms and older hens, the rationale for not recommending 23 hours daylength includes reduced growth rate.  

For hens marketed at a younger age, a maximum of 20 hours of daylength is recommended, while the recommendation for older hens and toms is between 14-17 hours of daylength.

This research was funded by the Poultry Industry Council, Lilydale Inc., Charison’s Turkey Hatchery Ltd, and CPRC.

For more details on any CPRC activities, please contact The Canadian Poultry Research Council, 350 Sparks Street, Suite 1007, Ottawa, Ontario K1R 7S8, phone: (613) 566-5916, fax: (613) 241-5999, email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or visit us at www.cp-rc.ca. n

The membership of the CPRC consists of Chicken Farmers of Canada, Canadian Hatching Egg Producers, Turkey Farmers of Canada, Egg Farmers of Canada and the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors’ Council. CPRC’s mission is to address its members’ needs through dynamic leadership in the creation and implementation of programs for poultry research in Canada, which may also include societal concerns.

 

 

 

 

Ontario now has a research study underway that will generate baseline information about the main pathogens – viruses, bacteria and parasites - present in non-commercial poultry flocks in the province.

Starting the first of October 2015 until the end of September 2017, small flock (non-quota, non-commercial) owners of chickens, turkeys, game fowl, geese and ducks, are encouraged to submit sick or dead birds to the Animal Health Laboratory in Guelph or Kemptville for post-mortem examination and diagnostic testing. Submissions must be made through a veterinarian, who will do the initial screening of submissions.  While there will be some veterinary fees involved at the farm level the lab testing itself will be done at a substantially discounted cost of $25 per submission. The tests would normally cost over $500.

“In general, there is not a lot of data,” said Leonardo Susta, DVM. “The number of small poultry flocks has markedly increased over the past few years in Ontario, however, there is a void of knowledge regarding the type and number of diseases that affect this segment of the poultry sector.”

Susta, who works out of the Department of Pathobiology at the Ontario Veterinary College, is leading this effort and is providing some of his own research funding to hire a graduate student for this project. Funding for the tests is provided by the Animal Health Laboratory (AHL) within the framework of the Ontario Animal Health Network within the Disease Surveillance Program.

Susta said there isn’t a lower limit on the size of the flock, with the upper limit of less than 50 turkeys, less than 300 broilers, less than 100 layers or 300 or fewer ducks, geese and game birds. Pigeons and doves are excluded from this study.

Through a brief questionnaire, researchers will gather information about common husbandry and biosecurity practices used by non-commercial flock owners. The data collected may help to identify diseases that are specific to the non-commercial poultry population, while helping vets better understand the needs of these flocks and producers. The results will be also tied with current surveillance studies at the Ontario Veterinary College (see page XX).

“We want vets to know and encourage owners (to submit birds),” Susta told a meeting of the Poultry Industry Council in August. He will also be advertising the program through the distribution of flyers at shows and through hatcheries.

Partners in the study include the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, the University of Guelph, the Animal Health Laboratory and the Ontario Animal Health Network (Disease Surveillance Program).

For more information, visit:

phrn.net/dis-surveillance-dr-susta-lab/

www.guelphlabservices.com/AHL/Poultry_Flock_Disease.aspx

or contact Dr. Leonardo Susta at 519-824-4120 x54323, email:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

or Dr. Marina Brash at  519-824-4120 x54550, email:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

 

 

 

McDonald’s announced its landmark decision to only serve cage-free eggs on its menu by 2025 in all of its North American restaurants.  The announcement is of great significance to the North American poultry industry and has undoubtedly set the stage for the future of egg production for the foodservice sector.

Although McDonald’s has lagged behind many of its counterparts in making such a declaration, the corporation’s immense buying power — it purchases approximately 120 million eggs for its Canadian restaurants and two billion for its U.S. restaurants — likely means that more foodservice chains will follow.

Although not wholly unexpected, the decision is somewhat disappointing considering the corporation has placed an increased emphasis on sourcing sustainable ingredients for its restaurants.

The Coalition for a Sustainable Egg Supply (CSES), comprised of leading animal welfare scientists, academic institutions, non-government organizations, egg suppliers, and restaurant/foodservice and food retail companies (of which McDonald’s USA is a participant) in North America released the results of a three-year commercial scale research project on the pros and cons of layer housing systems earlier this year.  In addition to cost of production and animal well-being, the CSES examined the effects of conventional cages, enriched cage/colony systems and aviary (free-run) systems on the environment, food safety and quality, food affordability and worker health and safety.  

The research showed that each system had advantages and disadvantages in terms of sustainability.  Although conventional housing had the best cost for consumers and producers, it was the worst in terms of animal well-being (ability to express natural behaviours).  Enriched housing and cage-free systems fared much better on this score, with aviary being the frontrunner. However, aviary systems scored the lowest in terms of food affordability and worker health and safety.  Injuries and bone breakages were also significantly higher in this type of system.

Despite the research, according to McDonald’s consumers want cage-free.  John Betts, president and CEO of McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada Limited said in a press release that the company’s “decision to source 100 per cent Canadian cage-free eggs reinforces the focus we’re placing on our food and menu to meet our guests’ changing expectations, allowing them to feel even better about the food they enjoy at our restaurants.”

McDonald’s is wise to give a 10-year timeline for the transition.  The U.S. in particular has been lagging on the transition from conventional housing to more welfare-friendly options, and securing two billion eggs per year from cage-free systems is going to take considerable time. Given that McDonald’s USA recently announced some of its markets will serve an all-day breakfast, the number of eggs needed is only going to increase.

Overall, the announcement should be regarded as a strong signal that consumer preferences outweigh scientific evidence.  For years, the poultry industry has been saying that science-based evidence should be at the forefront of decision-making with respect to “hot button” consumer issues such as welfare and antibiotic use.

The fact that the announcement from McDonald’s was quickly followed by a flurry of activity by animal welfare groups heralding the decision (and some even taking responsibility for it), also says we are losing the public relations battle

 

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