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Chicken Farmers of Ontario goes digital

New audit app latest step in digitization of Ontario’s chicken industry.


May 5, 2022
By Lilian Schaer

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The Judge Family with CFO farming operations representative Laura Stewart. PHOTO CREDIT: Chicken Farmers of Ontario

Chicken Farmers of Ontario (CFO) is launching a digital auditing app that will streamline the on-farm audit process for its members. The app is the latest enhancement to CFO Connects, a digital platform the organization first launched in 2015 to transform the chicken business. 

COVID-19 has accelerated the drive towards digitization in the poultry sector, as well as right across agriculture, although CFO CEO Denise Hockaday says the vision to simplify the farm audit process required under the organization’s quality assurance programs predates the pandemic.

“This was an idea that came before that; it’s a requirement for us to do the audits and, by default, that means you have to have all sorts of documentation. So, we were looking for a better way we can do that to help farmers and our (audit) team and improve communications between CFO and farmers,” Hockaday explains.

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“If you’re spending less time churning through paperwork during the audit, you can spend more time talking about the different things that are discussed during audits like animal health, operations, etc. That’s the opportunity,” she says. 

Digital uploads in advance
CFO’s Raised by a Canadian Farmer Animal Care Program (ACP) and Raised by a Canadian Farmer On-Farm Food Safety Program (OFFSP) set the standards farmers have to follow to help guarantee food safety as well as ensure the humane treatment of birds. 

Currently, auditors review all of a producer’s documentation during the farm visit. With the new app, all required documents can be submitted electronically in advance, giving the auditor a chance to review the paperwork before visiting the farm. Many auditing functions can also be completed in real time in the barn using a smart device. 

The intent is to make the audit time more efficient for farmers, as well as lead to more productive and useful conversations around critical aspects like physical environments, biosecurity, animal care practices and on-farm procedures when the auditor visits the farm. Longer-term, better reporting will make the industry better prepared to respond to potential avian disease outbreaks. 

Moving away from paper
The new digital audit app is the latest step in CFO’s digitization process that first began almost a decade ago, when the board decided in 2013 to transition away from its traditional, paper-based reporting systems. 

The resulting CFO Connects platform – a  leader in Canada’s chicken industry –connects farmers with CFO, transporters and processors and both simplifies and standardizes reporting. 

For each producer, the system includes information like crop quota, audit history, contract information, business transactions, feed data collection, quota transfer details and more. 

“Internally at CFO, we are very digital. There is not much that is still done on a physical piece of paper and COVID has certainly accelerated that transition,” Hockaday says. “With farmers, too, more and more has become digital, especially since COVID. Our meetings are virtual, and communications is by email.” 

Although chicken farmers miss the in-person networking and interaction of face-to-face events, she notes that one benefit of virtual CFO district meetings has been the opportunity for producers to attend any meeting of their choosing without being limited by geography or travel time. This gives the opportunity to interact with other people in the industry than would normally have been possible. 

“We’ve been moving paperwork to digital and the audit process will strengthen that even more,” she says, adding that the new app underwent extensive testing in 2021 before starting on its rollout to producers this year. 

Navigating change
“It’s pretty exciting; it definitely will be a change, but a change for the good and we will need to focus our efforts at CFO to help farmers navigate that change. But we’re committed to that because it’s the right thing to do,” she says. “Whenever there is change, there is an element of learning. But if you were to ask farmers today if they want to go back to before CFO Connect, they don’t want to go back.”

CFO plans to continue to update and enhance the capabilities of CFO Connects to keep pace with changing industry needs and evolving technologies. The original development of the system was supported by a Growing Forward II grant; development of the audit app was funded in part by the Canadian Agricultural Partnership.

There are no national projects currently underway to digitize information at the farmer level. According to Chicken Farmers of Canada, digitization in Canada’s chicken industry is driven by the provincial organizations.