Ontario veterinarian launches National Poultry Network to tackle industry challenges
By Jane RobinsonFeatures Emerging Trends
Jeff Wilson has spent his entire career building networks. Now, he's launched a new initiative with the aim of solving issues in Canada's poultry industry through collaboration and connectivity.
Jeff Wilson believes most of the big and little issues in Canada’s poultry industry can be tackled by picking up the phone. It’s a problem-solving strategy and collaborative approach that’s behind the new National Poultry Network.
Wilson is an Ontario veterinarian with a particular penchant and passion for bringing people together. He has doctorates in avian pathology and dairy cattle epidemiology, many years teaching at the University of Guelph and a general fascination for human behaviour. He’s also president of Novometrix Research Inc., a Guelph-based business that helps various sectors set up a new collaborative style of network – from animal health to human health and the environment.
“About eight years ago, Novometrix began creating a platform that could address any issue an industry has – economic, social, environmental, health – by bringing people together to collaborate,” says Wilson, who is a facilitator to the new poultry network.
Wilson has spent his entire, diverse career building networks. He’s naturally talkative, upbeat and inquisitive and loves the role of connector. He’s also amassed a broad understanding of global issues and that’s what led him to develop the concept of Community Network Integration (CNI) – the idea behind the National Poultry Network and others he’s helped get off the ground.
CNI is half business process and half social psychology. The network-forming plan requires some organic growth, as well as a bit of business structure, to bring people together and work through perceived roadblocks.
“I’ve done a lot of work in the poultry industry and I knew there was a need to bring the sector together in a new way to tackle issues like antimicrobial resistance, avian influenza and the overall profitability of the sector,” says Wilson.
Making contacts and connections
To get the National Poultry Network started, Wilson began by making a list of contacts in the poultry industry. It’s just the way he works. He picks up the phone and has a conversation that inevitably uncovers another contact and more connections. And he keeps going.
It’s a process that works. Novometrix has helped facilitate networks like the National Poultry Network in other sectors, bringing people and organizations together. He’s quick to clarify that the National Poultry Network isn’t designed or intended to replace organizations and initiatives already in place. “We want to connect with existing efforts and knit them together in a way that encourages greater collaboration to effectively solve issues that the Canadian poultry industry is facing,” he says.
The idea behind the new network is to act as a clearing house of sorts, bringing together all the players in the industry to address issues that the industry has identified. Wilson knows that when we build a structure for something big, in the future like a network, it’s important to have smaller pilot projects that show people how it works and how it solves problems that will save time or money for producers.
“National issues like avian influenza need to be addressed at the farm level,” he says. “And while the network is big picture, it starts small by working on individual projects.”
The network has already started some smaller pilot projects to work with individual producers on issues impacting their productivity and profitability, often by just connecting people to resources or information. One of those projects is with a local producer looking at ways to reduce bird losses and improve bird health.
Getting the network off the ground
The National Poultry Network is just in its infancy. “We were just getting started when COVID happened, but that coincidentally made people more aware of the need for collaboration, especially at a time with so many disparate opinions.”
A 12-member leadership team has been established with broad representation from the University of Guelph, Animal Health Laboratory, OMAFRA, Feather Board Command Centre, CFIA, BC Agriculture, a broiler producer, duck breeder and veterinarian, as well as representatives from companies that specialize in water purification systems and control systems (ventilation, water, feed). There is also a wider growing group of advisors and observers involved in the network.
Novometrix is currently working with the National Poultry Network leadership team to develop values, determine project priorities and define how the network will best provide value to the industry.
The most important part of any network, from Wilsons’ experience, is that everyone involved is asked and expected to bring creative problem solving to the table, along with a state of respect and appreciation of others. “As you do the work, it helps to bring a mindful, calm approach,” he says. “It really helps with collaboration, and you can accomplish much more with this mindset, especially when dealing with complex issues that may have conflicting approaches.”
Wilson wants the Canadian poultry industry to know that the new network is here and has an established, proven format for tackling tough issues through collaboration and networking. The network is building a website and creating a regular newsletter.
Novometrix is also looking for producers, processors and researchers who may want to join the network to benefit from upcoming pilot projects. Anyone interested can reach out directly to Wilson at email@example.com
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