Success in Agriculture
Jan. 27, 2017 - Canada's 150th anniversary is an excellent opportunity to celebrate the historical role of farmers in growing our nation. The Canada's Farmers Grow Communities program, sponsored by the Monsanto Fund, provides yet another opportunity for Canadian farmers to strengthen their communities by nominating their favourite local charities to win grants of $2,500.

Over the first five years of the program, more than 300 rural charities have received almost $1 million thanks to farmers. The fascinating stories of the farmers, the charities and their connections to the community paint a colourful portrait of rural Canada which will now be shared on the Canada's Farmers Grow Communities blog.

"Farmers are often unsung heroes in Canadian history," says Kelly Funke, public affairs manager for Monsanto Canada. "But farmers deserve credit for their contributions. That's why we created this program, and why we've now added a blog to our website to further highlight the stories behind the farmer heroes and their chosen charities."

The list of charities can include almost any non-profit organization based in rural Canada. Winners have included 4H clubs; rural daycares; libraries; volunteer fire departments; hospitals; schools; ag societies; senior centres; and other community facilities.

Farmers who are considering an application are encouraged to visit the Canada's Farmers blog at http://canadasfarmers.ca/blog/ for inspiration and to think about their own local charities or non-profit organizations. It takes just five minutes to apply and be entered into the random draw.

Once again in 2017, two $2,500 grants will be awarded in each of 33 different territories across the grain growing regions of northeastern B.C. (Peace River district), Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces. Applications are open now through September 30, 2017. And anyone can suggest a charity for a farmer to discover! Simply visit www.CanadasFarmers.ca where complete contest rules and an online application form are available. Winners will be selected by random draw on or about Nov. 1, 2017 and notified by Nov. 15, 2017.
Published in Farm Business

Jan. 25, 2017 - 4-H Canada and Syngenta Canada are pleased to announce the national winners of the Proud to Bee a 4-H’er video contest. 4-H’ers from across Canada were asked to create a short video, either as a club or as individuals, demonstrating their pride in being a part of the 4-H program and reflecting the wide variety of Canadian 4-H clubs, projects, communities and age groups.

The videos submitted during the contest entry period in November—coinciding with National 4-H Month—highlighted the common values and central experience of 4-H in building responsible, caring and contributing young leaders, and the sense of pride and accomplishment they all feel as 4-H’ers.
 
“Congratulations to all of the winning 4-H clubs and 4-H members who did such a wonderful job of showing their enthusiasm and excitement for 4-H in their videos, making this contest a great success,” said Shannon Benner, CEO of 4-H Canada.  “Thanks to Syngenta and the Proud to Bee a 4-H’er initiative, 4-H youth across Canada have had incredible opportunities to grow their knowledge of the important work of pollinators and show leadership in their communities by supporting the creation of pollinator-friendly habitats.”   
 
Approximately 3,800 votes were cast during the online public voting period. The winning entry received a GoPro HERO5 camera. The first and second runner-up entries each received an Apple iPad mini 2 and the remaining top ten entries received a selfie stick. Each of the top ten entries also received 4-H Canada branded items to continue displaying their 4-H pride in their communities.
 
Proud to Bee a 4-H’er – Winning Video Entries

  • 1st place - The Pas Helping Hands  / 4-H Manitoba
  • 2nd place - Aidan Tully / 4-H Manitoba
  • 3rd place - Colton Skori / 4-H Alberta
  • 4th place - Comox Valley 4-H Calf Club / 4-H British Columbia
  • 5th place - Boots N Bridles 4-H Club / 4-H British Columbia
  • 6th place - Irishtown 4-H Club / 4-H New Brunswick
  • 7th place - Caroline Carpenter / 4-H New Brunswick
  • 8th place - 4-W 4-H Club / 4-H Alberta
  • 9th place - Hillmond 4-H Beef Club / 4-H Saskatchewan
  • 10th place - Jocelyn Kerr / 4-H British Columbia
This fun and engaging video contest wrapped up the third year of Proud to Bee a 4-H’er, a national initiative encouraging 4-H club members to learn about the amazing world of bees and other pollinators, which includes planting and tending pollinator-friendly gardens in their communities.
 
Since 2014, close to 100,000 seed packets have been distributed across Canada, through the generous support of Syngenta, giving 4-H’ers and others the opportunity to create pollinator-friendly habitats and to enjoy the outdoors.
“The addition of the Proud to Bee a 4-H’er video contest in 2016 was a fun and fitting way to cap off a successful year of activities that saw more than 120 4-H Canada clubs from coast-to-coast-to-coast support the important work of pollinators. The enthusiasm that 4-H’ers brought to their Proud to Bee a 4-H’er activities was on full display in their video submissions,” says Dr. Paul Hoekstra, Stewardship and Policy Manager with Syngenta Canada.
 
Syngenta support for Proud to Bee a 4-H’er is through its Operation Pollinator program, which is focused on research and other initiatives that contribute to enhanced biodiversity and habitat in support of healthy pollinator populations.
 
To watch the winning videos, please visit www.youtube.com/4HCanada.
Published in Emerging Trends
Jan. 25, 2017-  An Independent Agri-Food Policy Note released today by Agri-Food Economic Systems explores the expanding trade policy agenda now facing Canadian agri-food as the trade agenda of the Trump Administration and other factors become evident.

“Not that long ago we thought the major sources of uncertainty dogging Canadian agri-food trade had been resolved”, says Al Mussell, Agri-Food Economic Systems research lead and co-author of the policy note. “That is quickly being proved wrong.  We had not expected US trade policy to turn protectionist, and in the interim a number of other major trade issues have arisen”.

The policy note takes stock of the range of developments in US trade policy under the new Trump Administration, the implications and alternatives for Canadian agri-food, and the consequent demands on trade and domestic agricultural policy. It highlights both bilateral shifts and multilateral issues that will reshape domestic and trade policy and require Canadian attention.      

“We face a problem of breadth and depth”, says Douglas Hedley, Agri-Food Economic Systems associate and co-author of the policy note. “The sheer number of prospective trade complaints and defensive actions coming from the US could swamp our capacity to effectively analyze and mount a successful defense; this may be a strategy of the new US administration”.  

Mussell says, “a retrenchment of the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, potential renegotiation of NAFTA, a prospective US border tax, and US trade complaints raised against Canada will drive Canada to consider alternative markets.  This puts more pressure on CETA and prospective new trade agreements with Japan, China, and perhaps others to provide markets for our agri-food products.  It will also require alignment between domestic agricultural policy and this new trade environment”.

“At the same time, a WTO Ministerial meeting is scheduled for later this year, in which domestic support for agriculture is likely to be a key element," Hedley adds.  Canada will be pressed to advance its agenda for reduced agricultural support globally and to deal with its own sensitivities.  This will further draw upon our trade policy capacity”.       

The Independent Agri-Food Policy Note can be accessed at www.agrifoodecon.ca.
Published in Trade
Jan. 24, 2017 - The single biggest labour challenge for the dairy, poultry and egg commodities will be finding skilled and experienced farm managers, including owner-operators. For these commodities, management and ownership jobs account for almost two-thirds of the current workforce, and between now and 2025, they will account for the majority of the jobs going unfilled due to a lack of domestic workers.
 
The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) has completed a three-year study and released the Dairy: Labour Market Forecast to 2025 and Poultry and Egg: Labour Market Forecast to 2025. These studies examine two of Canada’s most significant agricultural industries, which together account for 55,500 jobs, or 15 per cent of the total agricultural workforce.
 
Through consolidation, automation and other efficiencies, the dairy-cattle industry has shed more than a third of its workers since 2009, employing 39,900 as of 2014. However, despite this reduction in the size of the workforce, an additional 3,400 jobs went unfilled due to a lack of available domestic workers. This labour shortfall cost an estimated $71 million in lost sales.
 
While the labour demand is expected to continue to decline as a result of a stable market for the industry’s products, the labour supply is also predicted to shrink. As a result, the industry will continue to experience a labour shortage, with manager and owner-operator jobs at the greatest risk of going unfilled. Of the 1,100 jobs forecasted to go unfilled by 2025, 90 per cent will be jobs at the manager and owner-operator level, which will result in a skills shortage as well as a labour shortage.
 
For the poultry and egg industry, the research included farm operations engaged in breeding, hatching and raising poultry for meat or egg production, including chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, pheasants, partridges and pigeons. Similar to the dairy industry, a leveling of demand for poultry and egg production and improved industry productivity will limit the demand for labour, while a shrinking supply of domestic labour will widen the industry labour gap. In 2014, 15,600 people were employed in the poultry and egg industry and an additional 250 jobs went unfilled due to a lack of domestic labour. These shortages cost the industry an estimated $6 million in lost sales. By 2025, 15,900 workers will be required, and 1,100 jobs are at risk of going unfilled. As with the dairy-cattle industry, manager and owner-operator jobs will be the most difficult to fill.
 
Both industries will be significantly impacted by retirement, with nearly one-third of the dairy workforce and nearly one-quarter of the poultry and egg workforce expected to retire by 2025. Finding Canadian workers with the right skills and experience is the greatest barrier to recruitment for both industries, despite the fact that they often offer attractive work conditions, including full-time, year-round employment located relatively close to urban centres. Both industries also have voluntary turnover rates that are below the sector average, which means that fewer employees choose to leave their jobs.
 
Unless these industries can find additional sources of labour with the right skills and experience, they will suffer from a critical gap at the managerial and leadership levels that could inhibit their ability to thrive.
 
To address the labour issues identified in the research, CAHRC has developed agriculture-specific human resource (HR) tools designed to support modern farm operations to manage their workforce. CAHRC offers Agri Skills, online and in-person training programs, and the Agri HR Toolkit – an online resource guide and templates to address the HR needs of any business. For agricultural organizations there are customized labour issues briefings that apply the new research to specific commodities and provinces, to explore the labour implications within their specific area.
 
The Dairy: Labour Market Forecast to 2025 and Poultry and Egg: Labour Market Forecast to 2025 reports can be downloaded at http://www.cahrc-ccrha.ca/agriLMI.ca. The study data was validated through industry consultations conducted Canada-wide including: 1034 surveys of employers, workers and industry stakeholders; 80 phone interviews; six focus groups for a total of more than 100 participants; and seven webinars focused on specific commodity groups with 100 participants in total.
 
The LMI research was funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Sectoral Initiatives Program.
Published in Farm Business
Jan. 20, 2017 - Ontario livestock and poultry farmers now have a more consistent and transparent process for compensation when their animals are injured or killed by predatory wildlife. The newly updated Ontario Wildlife Damage Compensation Program (OWDCP) standardizes the requirements farmers need to meet to receive compensation. In addition, a new single-stage appeal process simplifies the process to address program application concerns and disputes.

The compensation rates, program guidelines and application forms are available at www.ontario.ca/predation.
Published in Farm Business
Jan. 19, 2017 - The Canadian veterinary profession has taken a significant step forward with the creation of a national framework (the Framework) to address its responsibilities under new Federal Government regulations for increased veterinary oversight of antimicrobials, which are expected to be implemented by the end of 2017.
 
The Framework, “Veterinary oversight of antimicrobial use – A Pan-Canadian framework for professional standards for veterinarians,” was developed by the veterinary pharmaceutical stewardship advisory group of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) in collaboration with the Canadian Council of Veterinary Registrars (CCVR).
 
It provides a template of professional standards, which may be used by provincial and territorial veterinary regulatory (licensing) bodies when developing their own regulations, guidelines, or bylaws relating to veterinarians’ professional responsibilities in providing oversight of veterinary antimicrobial use.
 
“Canadian veterinarians have a national and international responsibility to protect public health by contributing to the fight against antimicrobial resistance,” says Dr. Troy Bourque, CVMA president. “By working towards harmonizing veterinary oversight of antimicrobial use in Canada, we are optimizing our stewardship practices in animal and public health, maintaining access to and effectiveness of antimicrobials for the treatment and prevention of disease in animals and upholding to the integrity of the veterinary profession.”
 
The Framework describes the professional obligations for veterinarians as ‘suggested standards,’ provides a definition of the Veterinarian-Client-Patient-Relationship (VCPR), and describes the professional obligations to be met by veterinarians when prescribing an antimicrobial drug.
 
In addition, the Framework makes several recommendations on outstanding issues, including surveillance of antimicrobial use and distribution, and continuing education opportunities for veterinary professionals on antimicrobial stewardship.
 
The veterinary profession in Canada will continue to be engaged in discussions on the oversight of the use of veterinary antimicrobials at provincial and national levels.
 
The Framework was developed after consultation with key stakeholders from the veterinary and human health communities, producer groups, and regulators from across Canada.
 
The framework document has been completed and distributed to all regulatory bodies and CVMA members. It is available for download from the CVMA website at www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/pan-canadian-framework .
Published in Business & Policy
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.
Published in Consumer Issues
Jan. 13, 2017 – After graduating from high school, Gary Baars hung up a shingle as TNT Agri-Services, offering “relief milking and much more.”

“Much more” soon started becoming a reality and on Jan. 11th, the now 33-year-old Chilliwack, B.C. dairyman, hay salesman and cattle dealer and his wife, Marie (26), became the B.C. & Yukon Outstanding Young Farmers for 2017.

In 2006, TNT Agri Services turned into TNT Hay Sales as Baars started selling hay, first to local horse farms and then to local dairy farms.

“We sell a lot of hay to different dairy farms,” Baars says. Not long after, the young entrepreneur expanded TNT to include cattle sales. When Farm Credit Canada offered him a large loan with “no strings attached” in early 2011, Baars used it to start his own dairy farm.

“I had enough money to buy quota for 15 cows,” he recalls.

Two years later, Marie’s grandmother asked if they would manage her 160-cow 80-acre dairy farm in east Abbotsford. The Baars agreed on condition they could buy it.

“We amalgamated our small herd with her larger herd and have been steadily improving the facilities over the past few years,” Baars reports.

His entrepreneurship did not stop there. Last year, he purchased additional hay-growing acreage in Greendale and joined up with two partners to buy a 472-acre 100-cow dairy in Manitoba.

“We have already grown that farm by 20 per cent,” Baars says.

He has also served as a director of both the Mainland Young Milk Producers and the B.C. Young Farmers. Baars’ entrepreneurial spirit even extends itself to his recreational activities. Gary and his father-in-law have begun holding Cornfield Races twice a year, inviting friends and neighbours to race beat-up cars on the farm.

To earn the 2017 award from judges Rick Thiessen (2004 BC & Canadian Outstanding Young Farmer), Mark Sweeney (retired B.C. Ministry of Agriculture berry and horticulture specialist) and Kurt Bausenhaus (KPMG), the Baars outpointed Jeremy and Tamara Vaandrager of
Vaandrager Farms in west Abbotsford.

After managing several egg farms for other owners, the Vaandragers obtained a 3,000 bird quota in the 2010 B.C. Egg Marketing Board new entrant lottery. In the six years since, they have increased their quota holdings to 6,000 birds and are in the process of converting their farm from a free-run operation to an aviary.

“Aviaries have become common in Europe but it is still a relatively new system in North America,” Vaandrager notes.

The BCOYF program is sponsored by the BC Broiler Hatching Egg Commission, Clearbrook Grain & Milling, Farm Credit Canada and Insure Wealth. To be eligible for the award, applicants must be under 40 and derive at least two-thirds of their gross revenue from farming. They are
judged on the progress in their agricultural careers, the sustainability of their farming operations and involvement in their industry and community.

Gary and Marie Baars will represent B.C. at the national OYF competition in Penticton, B.C., in November. The national competition is supported by AdFarm, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, Annex Business Media, Bayer Crop Science, BDO, CIBC, Farm Management Canada and John Deere.
Published in Producers
Jan. 4, 2017 - Canadian agriculture benefited from a relatively low dollar throughout 2016 and this trend is expected to continue into 2017, according to J.P. Gervais, Farm Credit Canada’s chief agricultural economist.

Top Drivers“There are certainly other factors that could influence Canadian agriculture, such as the global economy, the investment landscape, commodity and energy prices,” says Gervais, speaking to his top five agriculture economic trends to watch in 2017. “The Canadian dollar, however, has been a major driver for profitability in the last couple of years and could have the biggest influence on the overall success of Canada’s agriculture industry in 2017.”Gervais is forecasting the dollar will hover around the 75-cent mark and will remain below its five-year average value relative to the U.S. dollar in 2017, potentially making the loonie the most significant economic driver to watch in Canadian agriculture this year.

The low dollar not only makes Canada more competitive in agricultural markets relative to some of the world’s largest exporters, but it also means higher farm cash receipts for producers whose commodities are priced in U.S. dollars.

Producers
A low Canadian dollar will keep the demand for Canadian agricultural commodities healthy, which is especially important considering the higher projected supply of livestock and crops. This means potential revenue growth, especially considering a likely rebound in livestock prices off the weakness observed in the second half of 2016.

“A lower Canadian dollar makes farm inputs more expensive, but the net impact in terms of our export competitiveness and cash receipts for producers is certainly positive,” Gervais says. “Given the choice, producers are better off with a low-dollar than one that’s relatively strong compared to the U.S. dollar.”

Food processors
Food processors are also better off with a low Canadian dollar, which is partly the reason behind the strong growth in the gross domestic product of the sector over the past few years. Canadian food products are less expensive for foreign buyers, while it is more difficult for foreign food processors to compete in the Canadian market, according to Gervais.

“The climate for investment in Canadian food processing is good, given the low dollar and growing demand in the U.S.,” Gervais says. He projects that exports of food manufactured products to the US could climb five per cent in 2017.

Agribusinesses
A lower-than-average U.S. per Canadian dollar exchange rate supports foreign sales of agribusinesses as more than 90 per cent of all exports are made to the U.S., and compensate for a weaker demand due to the recent downturn in the U.S. farm economy.

“The dollar’s impact on agribusinesses is complex and not as consistent as it is on producers and food processors,” said Gervais, noting that strong farm cash receipts due to a weak loonie are generally good news for agribusinesses, since they can expect sales to producers to increase with rising revenues.

But he also notes that “a weak loonie raises the price of inputs like fertilizers or equipment, making them more expensive for producers, which may impact their purchase decisions.”

For an in-depth analysis of the impact of the Canadian dollar and Gervais’s four other economic drivers to watch in 2017, visit the FCC Ag Economics blog post at www.fcc.ca/AgEconomics
Published in Farm Business
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.
Published in Companies
The arduous review process is over and the award has now been bestowed. Of the various operations nominated for the 2016 Canadian Poultry Sustainability Award, Farmcrest Foods Ltd. (Farmcrest) is the winner.

The enterprise was started in 1999 and is owned by Richard Bell and his brother-in-law Alan Bird, whose families both originate from Ireland and came to Canada looking for new opportunities. In addition to Richard and Alan, members of three generations of the families currently help out on the farm, including Richard’s father Cecil (a retired farmer), brother Henry and sons Henry Jr. and Jack.  

The operation includes: a hatchery and poultry barns (in addition to growing their own birds Farmcrest also contracts 16 new entrant growers to supply chicken to their processing plant); feed mill; processing plant; rendering plant (renderings are not used on the farm but sold for animal feed); enclosed mechanical composting for bird mortality, and crop production (200 acres of owned land and 400 acres of leased land farmed with potatoes, sunflowers and soybeans). Farmcrest also has its own poultry retail store. In total, the operation employs 45 people.

The farm itself is situated on soils ranging from clay and loamy clay to sandy loam with some peat areas in a relatively flat river bottom area near Salmon Arm, B.C.

“It is also very close to Shuswap Lake,” Bell explains. “We therefore need to be very careful with the amount and type of nutrients applied to this well-drained area to prevent runoff.”

Farmcrest’s regular nutrient management practices include using a concrete pad (contained to prevent runoff) for manure storage. There is also virtually no runoff of nutrients from the fields (and little odour) as manure is worked in with a disc or ploughed under immediately after application.

“We only apply the manure to the fields needing it for the seed that is being planted,” Bell notes. “Our soil health has improved steadily in the last five years since these measures were put in place.” No commercial fertilizers are used.

Farmcrest has an environmental farm plan and has used expert advice from a certified crop advisor since 2011. In 2013, Farmcrest also began a working relationship with Poultry Partners, a team of technicians, production specialists, veterinarians and nutritionists based in Airdrie, Alta., which offers a variety of agricultural industry services. The firm supported Farmcrest’s nomination for the sustainability award through a letter of recommendation - as did the British Columbia Chicken Marketing Board.

“They’ve done an excellent job farming intensively in a very ecologically-sensitive area,” Shawn Fairbairn, Poultry Partners general manager says. “They have committed to improve soil fertility, optimize production and most importantly, reduce chemical and pesticide use and virtually eliminate synthetic fertilizer to ensure the surrounding ecosystem remains undisturbed. There is on-going monitoring and testing of the manure, soil and crops to ensure their goals are being reached. The investment in new equipment to allow for less soil disturbance and odour when poultry manure is applied is one example of their forward-thinking.”  

Fairbairn also notes that farm equipment is continuously upgraded at Farmcrest so that the most precise technology is used with the most fuel-efficient engines. “By growing about 85 per cent of all the feed ingredients their chickens consume, they have dramatically reduced the carbon footprint of their operation,” he adds.

Farmcrest also uses moisture and pH meters for soil testing to understand when conditions are optimal for manure application.

An overall goal to achieve air quality improvement (reductions in odour, ammonia and particulate matter inside and outside the barn) has been achieved by ensuring an optimal level of nitrogen is available to the birds. Ingredient and feed sampling are conducted on a regular basis to track this, and tests to track soil nitrogen levels are also completed annually. Because of all this monitoring and adjustment (not to mention an on-farm feed mill that makes immediate changes in the ration possible), Farmcrest has seen improvements in bird growth as well as air quality and soil improvement.

No irrigation is used at Farmcrest, and as much water as possible is conserved through the use of an ‘air chill’ system in the processing plant, nipple drinkers in the barns and a misting system for barn disinfection. Farmcrest has built 14 new poultry barns in the last five years, and Richard says their goal with each build is to be as energy efficient as possible. This includes the use of R60 insulation, LED lighting, high-efficiency electric motors and radiant tube heating.

Product differentiation
Farmcrest was the first in its region to grow grain corn and now non-GMO grain corn. This led to the operation breaking new ground on a national level by being the first poultry operation in Canada to market non-GMO chicken (verified through nongmoproject.org). Poultry Partners assisted with further development of products. “[Farmcrest] listened to their customers and have proactively responded to the demand that was there in their local market. This has been extremely good for their business and the long-term financial viability of their operation.”

Fairbairn describes the Bird and Bell families as having a “tangible passion” for poultry and farming. “We love working with clients that are ‘hands-on’ and engaged,” he notes. “And the folks at Farmcrest are extremely engaged. Their work ethic and commitment to the environment and their local community is easy to grasp when you spend time with them. They are big believers in continuous learning and improvement. There is on-going reinvestment in all aspects of their operation to allow for improved welfare, safety and production efficiency for the birds, workers and the food they produce.”  

Team effort
The fact that the Farmcrest owners directly work alongside their employees every day has created, in Fairbairn’s view, a culture of hard work and high standards. “It is also unique to see three generations of family all working together towards a common goal,” he notes. “The youngest generation is actively involved in working and planning and will be well prepared to continue the legacy of this agri-business. The owners are always looking for new technologies and ideas. They literally travel the world to attend trade shows, farm tours and crop production events to ensure they are on the leading edge of agriculture. As a consulting group, we are extremely fortunate to have a client like Farmcrest.”

Bell says he feels honoured that Farmcrest has won the 2016 Canadian Poultry Sustainability Award. “It is very much a team effort,” he notes. “I wish to thank my staff and our team for their dedicated efforts each and every day.”

Visit farmcrestfoods.ca if you would like to read in more detail about the business.
Published in Profiles
A new study, Dollars and Sense, by Kynetec (formerly Ipsos Agriculture and Animal Health) has identified the top seven habits of Canada’s best farmers.  For the first time, researchers have established a direct link between farm business management planning and higher farm income and profitability.

According to the report, leading Canadian farm businesses in the top 25 per cent financially out-perform those in the bottom 25 per cent by a wide margin: a 525 per cent increase in return on assets (ROA), 155 per cent increase in gross margin ratio, and 100 per cent increases in return on equity (ROE) and asset turnover.

“This is the first time we clearly see how specific business management practices positively affect a farm’s financial outcomes,” says Agri-Food Management Institute (AMI) executive director, Ashley Honsberger. “Management matters and this study illustrates just how much of an impact the top habits
can have.”  

The study, commissioned by AMI and Farm Management Canada, included 604 farms of all types and sizes, and farmers of all ages, nationwide, in the grains and oilseeds, beef, hogs, poultry and eggs, dairy, and horticulture sectors.

The leading driver of farm financial success is continuous learning. Farms in the bottom 25 per cent are three times less likely to seek out new information, training or learning opportunities.

Number two is keeping finances current so that key farm decisions are made based on an accurate financial picture of the business. Farms in the bottom quartile are three times more likely to have financial records that are months behind and are also almost three times more likely not to monitor their cost of production.

The third driver of farm success is seeking the help of professional business advisors or consultants. Farms in the top quartile are 30 per cent more likely to work regularly with a farm business advisor or team of advisors.

Four other drivers also ranked highly: having a formal business plan, knowing and monitoring cost of production, assessing and managing risk, and using budgets and financial plans.

Of the 55 poultry and egg farmers surveyed nationwide, 69 per cent felt the financial health of their farm was a little or much better now compared to five years ago.

The top 25 per cent of poultry and egg farms shows a five per cent ROA compared to 0 per cent in the bottom 25 per cent; 37.7 per cent gross margin ratio compared to 0 percent; 15.6 per cent ROE compared to 15.4 per cent; and 13.6 per cent asset turnover compared to 10.1 per cent.

Poultry and egg farmers lead the pack. Thirty-six per cent have a formal business plan, well ahead of the 25 per cent average of all other farmers, 36 per cent have a financial plan with budget objectives, which again is higher than the average of all other farmers at 33 per cent, and 26 per cent have a formal human resources plan, considerably more than the 17 per cent average of all other farmers.

The study also showed that 69 per cent use supply chain relationships to add value, which is significantly higher than the 49 per cent of all other farmers.

Honsberger advises farmers considering making business management changes to divide a large task into smaller steps, such as using the off-season to attend education events or meet with a business advisor.

A resource for farmers, dubbed “Pledge to Plan” can also help with business management activities for each season, support tools, and stories of producers who’ve already gone through the process. It’s available at pledgetoplan.ca.

The study was funded through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

About the Agri-Food Management Institute 
AMI promotes new ways of thinking about agribusiness management and aims to increase awareness, understanding and adoption of beneficial business management practices by Ontario agri-food and agri-based producers and processors.
Published in Farm Business
Next time you go into a livestock barn, stop, look, listen and smell. How is one species of livestock different from another? Or better yet, how are all livestock species the same?

The answer to that question may just hold the key to the future of research. The days of independent, species-specific research may be changing to a new model, bringing together not only different livestock species but also different sectors of research and industry.

“It’s time to start thinking outside the shell,” said Tim Nelson, “and think very big.” Nelson is the CEO of the Livestock Research Innovation Corporation (LRIC) – a new hive of cross-disciplinary research based in Guelph, Ont.

The new network is an assembly of Ontario Livestock and Poultry Organizations that are betting the future of agriculture on well designed and directed research. Their mission is to provide, “a single portal through which collective investment in livestock and poultry research conducted in Ontario, is able to generate the best possible outcomes and return on investment for our sector and the Province.”

Times are changing, explained Nelson. Funding from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food is holding steady but overall investment in poultry research is declining and industry funding is flat. Government funding is pulling back at a time when their target outcomes are moving to a focus of creating jobs, although Nelson has high hopes with a new government that believes in science.

That’s not the only change.  The agriculture and food industry is changing too, looking for economies of scale. Industry is relying less on publicly funded research to pursue their goals of efficiency, while large corporations in areas such as genetics and pharmaceuticals continue to consolidate and do their own research.

Meanwhile research priorities are also changing. “We’ve gotten good at producing eggs,” said Nelson. In 1951 a hen would give us 150 eggs; in 2006 that number had risen to 325 eggs, using only 1.4 kg of feed compared to 3.4 kg. The feed to gain ratio in broilers has dropped from 6:1 to 1.6:1. “Do we still need to be doing this,” he asked?

Society is changing too, said Nelson, and their push for change is powerful. Many suggested production practices have no science to guide them. It’s one thing to ask to ban cages but what do the birds need in alternate production systems such as aviaries to ensure they’re getting a better deal?

At the researcher level, one measure of success is the number of patents issued, which potentially may delay transfer of technical information, adding to cost and reducing the desire of the industry to invest in late-stage research.

What opportunities can cross-disciplinary research create in this changing environment?

Nelson makes a strong case for collaboration.

When it comes to addressing societal needs, for example, Nelson suggests that the ‘silo’ model just doesn’t work. Social and ecological problems are far too complex. In response, research ‘clusters’ are becoming more common, allowing for the spreading of costs and creating a synergy to address common interests. Nelson cautions though that they need to be more than a grouping of researchers in one building, each working on their own projects. Just calling a grouping of researchers a ‘cluster’ doesn’t necessarily follow his definition of cross-disciplinary research.

So what does? Let’s consider what topics are important to poultry research right now. Nelson has condensed them to three areas: animal welfare, antibiotics in feed and food safety. None of these are what he calls “single discipline issues”.  Each has components that could be cross-funded by more than one sector, working in collaboration.

Could solutions to treat salmonella in pigs, for example, also be applied to poultry? Why not to dairy and beef as well? The advantages of shared research are clear: costs can be spread, bigger industry funding can be leveraged to better government funding, more tech transfer will be encouraged and private investment will be exposed to more opportunity.

But what about the language? Will researchers talking in ‘pig language’ be able to communicate with those talking ‘chicken’? Nelson says yes, once an early solution gets to the point where it needs to diverge it will need individual attention. “This is a paradigm shift,” said Nelson, which may not apply to all research but it is a way forward that will help the agriculture industry.

Nelson wants to target the resources of LRIC at what he calls the ‘Blue Sky/ Discovery stage’: “Start thinking about opportunities early.” LRIC is there to find commonalities in research, searching proposals and issues to find common ground.

“Cross-disciplinary research is already a reality; cross-sectorial research will become a reality,” said Nelson. “It will become a necessity.” Don’t be shy, he says, talk to LRIC and find out who else would benefit from or fund your work.
Published in Research
Dec. 13, 2016 - Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) has announced an investment of up to $780,040 to 4-H Canada to host the 2017 Global 4-H Network Summit.

The summit, which will take place in Ottawa in July 2017 (to coincide with the 150th anniversary of confederation), will host over 600, 4-H delegates from across Canada and around the world where they will share experiences, develop skills and learn about agriculture. The summit will include four days of workshops and plenary sessions including a two-day trade show focusing on education and career opportunities. This investment is made through the Growing Forward 2, AgriCompetitiveness program, a five-year, up to $114.5 million initiative.

Canada's minister of agriculture and agri-food, Lawrence MacAulay, also announced changes to Farm Credit Canada's (FCC) Young Farmer Loan. FCC will increase its support for young farmers by doubling the amount of credit available to $1 million from $500,000, and lowering the possible minimum down payment to 20 per cent of the value of the loan which supports the purchase or improvement of farmland and buildings.
Published in Farm Business
Dec. 12, 2016 - There appears to be a growing interest in agriculture education in Canada, along with an increasing number of job opportunities in the industry, according to Statistics Canada (StatsCan) data and a couple of independent surveys.

StatsCan data reveals there were a total of 12,168 students studying in agriculture or an ag-related program in 2014, which is a 2.7 per cent increase from the previous year and a 16.6 per cent overall increase from 2009-10.

The number of enrollments in agricultural programs grew at a rate double of all post-secondary enrollments (2.7 per cent and 1.2 per cent, respectively), while slowing down at about the same level as all other post-secondary programs over the past five years.

Agriculture programs are also more likely to see full-time enrollment than other programs (87 per cent compared to 75 per cent, respectively) and this rate has been steady over the past five years.

A recent informal Farm Credit Canada (FCC) survey of 33 post-secondary institutions offering agriculture and ag-related programs confirms agriculture has become a popular career option, especially over the past five years as the industry has grown.

“This is a testament to the strength and appeal of Canada’s agriculture industry, which is generating more interest among students than ever before,” Todd Klink, FCC’s chief marketing officer, who has undertaken projects to get high schools students interested in careers in agriculture says. “As the industry grows, so does the need for additional talented, energetic and well-educated young people.”

The need to attract skilled and educated young people to Canada’s agriculture industry is highlighted in a recent study by Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC).

Agriculture 2025: How the Sector’s Labour Challenges Will Shape its Future shows the gap between labour demand and the domestic workforce in agriculture has doubled from 30,000 to 59,000 in the past 10 years and projections indicate that by 2025, the Canadian agri-workforce could be short workers for 114,000 jobs. The study also reveals that primary agriculture has the highest industry job vacancy rate at seven per cent.

“The sustainability and future growth of Canada’s agriculture and agri-food industry is at risk,” Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst, CAHRC executive director, explains in releasing the study. “It is critically important that this risk is acknowledged and mitigated in an intentional and strategic way.”

FCC says it is committed to helping young people enter the industry by offering various loan products for young farmers and through its long-standing support for 4-H Canada clubs and programs and Agriculture in the Classroom.

“Given that one in eight jobs in Canada are tied to the agri-food industry, there are a lot of opportunities for young people,” Klink says. “The growing interest in agriculture education shows we can be optimistic for the future of agriculture.”
Published in Emerging Trends

Dec. 7, 2016 - Andrew and Jennifer Lovell of Keswick Ridge, N.B. and Dominic Drapeau and Célia Neault of Ste-Françoise-de-Lotbinière, Que. have been named Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers for 2016. These two farm families were chosen from seven regional farm couples across Canada at OYF’s national event last week in Niagara Falls, Ont.
 
Both families have dreamed of owning their own farm since they were young and were not afraid to make changes and embrace technology along the way. Their entrepreneurial spirits and adaptability has made them successful both on and off the farm.
 
“All of this year’s regional honourees have shown us their incredible passion for agriculture,” OYF president Luanne Lynn says. “It was extremely difficult for the judges to make their decision, but ultimately our winners stood out for their state-of-the art thinking and commitment to the future of Canadian agriculture.”
 
The Lovell’s story is different than most because neither of them grew up on a farm. In 2012 they purchased their farm River View Orchards with roots tracing back to 1784, and created a diversified u-pick farm market operation. It wasn’t an easy start as they suffered $100,000 in damage in 2014, but they persevered and adapted their plans until they were able to begin full production again. By offering fence and trellis construction services and building attractions which brought over 1,400 visitors to their farm they were able to carry on with the farm they have always dreamed of.
 
Drapeau and Neault are third-generation dairy and field crop farmers who are not afraid to make changes and embrace technology. Raised in a farming family, Dominic got involved in the family business at a young age. When he was 16, he was performing artificial insemination on cows and developed his management skills by taking over the herd and feeding responsibilities.  In the barn they use genomic testing on young animals, motion detectors for reproduction, a smart scale on the mixer-feeder and temperature probes close to calving. In the fields, the farm uses a satellite navigation system for levelling, draining, seeding, fertilizing and spraying. With these innovations over the last four years, they have enabled the farm to increase overall yields by five to 10 per cent each year.
 
“The national event in Niagara Falls this year was a great opportunity to showcase all of the great contributions to Canadian agriculture,” Lynn says. “All of the regional OYF honourees really went outside of the box and pushed the boundaries this year.”
 
Every year this event brings recognition to outstanding farm couples in Canada between 18 and 39 years of age who have exemplified excellence in their profession while fostering better urban-rural relations. The Lovell’s and Drapeau/Neault were chosen from seven regional finalists, including the following honourees from the other five regions:

  • Brian and Jewel Pauls, Chilliwack B.C.
  • Shane and Kristin Schooten, Diamond City, Alta.
  • Dan and Chelsea Erlandson, Outlook, Sask.
  • Jason and Laura Kehler, Carman, Man.
  • Adrian and Jodi Roelands, Lambton Shores, Ont.
Celebrating 36 years, Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers’ program is an annual competition to recognize farmers that exemplify excellence in their profession and promote the tremendous contribution of agriculture. Open to participants 18 to 39 years of age, making the majority of income from on-farm sources, participants are selected from seven regions across Canada, with two national winners chosen each year. The program is sponsored nationally by CIBC, John Deere, Bayer, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through Growing Forward 2, a federal, provincial, territorial initiative. The national media sponsor is Annex Business Media, and the program is supported nationally by AdFarm, BDO and Farm Management Canada.
Published in Producers
Dec. 9, 2016 - The Back to Ag Program is a funding project focused on supporting the cost of adaptive technology for farmers that have experienced a traumatic injury. The Back to Ag Program is the result of a partnership between the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association, Farm Credit Canada and the Rick Hansen Foundation.

Barry Cloutier, a farmer from near Ponteix, Sask., is one farmer that Back to Ag has helped.

In October of 2014, Cloutier was running a round baler when trouble struck. “The twine yanked out,” he explains. “To see where the problem was, I had to leave the baler running.” That’s when he saw the buildup of chaff and straw. “I’ve had two baler fires, so I’m pretty wary of extra chaff and straw. I reached out to remove the blockage - I wasn’t thinking at that point, and that’s when my fingers found the roller chain,” Cloutier says. “I knew better, but it was close to supper time, and I wanted to be done my work in 15 minutes.”

Cloutier had lost portions of his index and middle finger on his right hand. Cloutier immediately called 911. After some initial confusion on where he exactly was, the paramedics found him, and the ambulance rushed him to the hospital.

After a night in hospital and then day surgery, Cloutier was back on the farm. “I had to have my hand bandaged and cleaned daily at the local hospital. I also had to drive to hospital for a time for a hand therapy program,” he says. “The physical therapist told me that she could see I was stubborn and that I was going to work to get my hand and fingers to the point where I could make a fist. And I did.”

Even with his injury, Cloutier hasn’t slowed down on the farm. “I don’t want to do anything else,” he explains. “This is where my heart is. This is me; this is who I am, and this is what I do.”

However, Cloutier’s injury has affected his ability to do his job on the farm. “It’s a good thing I’m stubborn,” he says. “Things are more difficult. I have to think and plan very carefully what I’m going to do. My hand is always very sensitive, always cold. If I’m climbing a ladder or working around machinery, I have to be very thoughtful about how to use my hand; the strength isn’t there anymore.” Cloutier has looked into other programs and personal insurance, but no program or insurance existed that would be able to help him deal with his injury on the farm.

That’s when he saw an article about Back to Ag.

“I was waiting for my wife and happened across a newspaper article about Back to Ag,” he explains. “I thought, wow, that’s interesting!” Cloutier explains that he started thinking about applying and what type of technical solution would best accommodate his injury. Cloutier faces many challenges in having only two fingers on his dominant hand and hauling five-gallon pails is one of them.

With over 200 head of livestock, Cloutier was dependent on a shovel and pail to feed his animals. “I put out pails six months of the year,” he explains. “I needed something that would help ease the pressure and pain on my hand.”

Through the Back to Ag Program, Cloutier was able to purchase a cattle-feed cart. This grain handling system means that Cloutier is able to feed his livestock more efficiently and safely, without the risk of injuring his hand further.

When talking about the grain handling system, he is enthusiastic. “I like the way it looks; it’s a great idea. I like the idea of not having to haul those doggone pails.” He does have one problem with the new grain handling system, “It might make me want to farm that much longer,” he laughs.

Cloutier encourages other traumatically-injured farmers to find out more about the Back to Ag Program. “Definitely apply,” he says. “Find out more and use it for something that’s going to help you and be useful on your farm.”

CASA is currently accepting applications for the Back to Ag program for the 2016–17 funding period. Applications are being received on a first come, first served basis. Applicants must be farmers who have experienced a life-altering incident resulting in a disability. They must demonstrate that the purchase of specialized equipment or adaptation of existing equipment will help them get back to work on the farm safely.

For more information about program criteria or to submit an application, please visit casa-acsa.ca/BacktoAg or call 877-452-2272.
Published in Farm Business
Dec. 6, 2016 - The National Plant and Animal Health Planning Forum in Ottawa is hosting representatives from across federal and provincial governments, industry and academia, to identify and discuss the actions needed to strengthen the protection of plant and animal health in Canada.

The objective of the Forum is to build a national strategy for plant and animal health which will be built on a vision shared by all participating partners. It will focus on strengthening Canada's agriculture sector through innovation, collaboration, and risk prevention.

"This forum presents a unique opportunity to identify and discuss the actions that we need to take together to develop a national plant and animal health strategy," Lawrence MacAulay, minister of agriculture and agri-food says. "We need to work together, build on our successes, learn from our challenges and take a greater proactive, integrated and preventive approach to protecting Canadian agriculture."

"A national integrated plant and animal health strategy developed with industry leadership, and in full collaboration with provincial and federal governments, is a significant step forward not only for stakeholders, but for Canadians and their communities, increasing their trust in Canadian agriculture," adds Phil Boyd, executive director of Turkey Farmers of Canada.

A draft strategy will be available in the new year for public consultation. Learn more about the Plant and Animal Health Strategy, and share your ideas on strengthening plant and animal health today.

Representatives from all 10 provinces and over 50 industry associations are participating in the National Plant and Animal Health Planning Forum. Federal, provincial and territorial agriculture ministers endorsed the development of a national strategy for plant and animal health in summer 2016 and will receive the draft strategy at their annual meeting in July 2017.
Published in Emerging Trends
Any method to preserve a species’ genetics is complex and costly. For poultry, raising generation after generation of a certain group of birds is one method, but because those who have been doing this don’t really receive any benefits that outweigh the costs, many are not continuing with it. In addition, relying on live flocks as a way to preserve genetics is also quite risky because something like a disease outbreak or a fire could always come along and cause the DNA to be lost forever.

A solution is therefore needed, preferably one that allows for the preservation of as much avian genetic diversity as possible. This will allow for genes from heritage breeds to be fully examined and characterized – genes which may hold great future promise in commercial breeding in terms of important traits like resistance to disease. American geneticist Dr. Janet Fulton has already demonstrated that there are some genes present in heritage poultry breeds that are not present in commercial breeds, and some of this heritage DNA (very much at risk of being lost at this point in time) may become crucial in future commercial poultry breeding enhancements.

But how is a central, efficient and secure way to preserve poultry genes to be developed? Cryopreservation (slow freezing) was tried because it works for mammalian sperm, eggs, embryos and more. But it turned out that cryopreservation of avian sperm significantly lowers its ability to fertilize eggs, and avian sperm doesn’t contain the entire bird genome anyway. While avian embryonic cells do, cryopreservation doesn’t work with them either.

Finding a reliable way to preserve poultry genetics is also challenging because of the trickiness involved with manipulating bird eggs and sperm, explains Dr. Carl Lessard, curator of the Canadian Animal Genetic Resources program (CAGR) at the University of Saskatoon in Saskatchewan. “What’s required is to open a small spot in an egg shell and deposit desired embryonic cells into the host embryo without killing it,” he notes. “That’s very difficult. So, while freezing embryonic blastodermal cells is a good way to preserve the entire genome of a species, it just doesn’t allow for easy usability of that genome in poultry.”  

In 2006, Dr. Fred Silversides (now retired from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) tried some new thinking. What about preserving the gonadal tissue (testicular and ovarian tissue) where sperm and eggs are created and stored? Might it be possible to develop a relatively efficient way to remove gonads, chill and store them, and then thaw and transfer them, resulting in the hatching of a chick with the desired genetics and not any from the surrogate mother hen?  

Instead of the slow freezing involved with cryopreservation, Silversides tried vitrification, where a gonad is removed from a day-old chick, treated with lots of cryoprotectant and chilled rapidly through a plunge in liquid nitrogen. The gonad is never technically frozen (there’s no ice crystal formation) but maintained in a glass-like (vitreous) state at a very low temperature. Once thawed, the gonad is surgically transferred to a day-old chick recipient that has had its gonad totally or partially removed.

At the same time, Silversides and his team developed ways to preserve the viability of the tissues during and after thawing and transplantation, such as treating the recipient chick with immunosuppressants to avoid rejection of the graft.

Success was achieved! Over time, the work of Silversides and his colleagues at AFFC was transferred to CAGR, where Lessard became curator in 2014. Since that point, Lessard and his team have been working hard to move all aspects of poultry genetics preservation forward.



What’s happening now
The technique for chicken testicular tissue is now well-established, and Lessard and colleagues are currently optimizing Silversides’ technique for ovarian tissue. “The ovarian grafts are not growing the way we need them to, so we are now trying to find a new chicken line recipient,” Lessard explains. “The bird line we were using likely has an immune response that’s too high. We didn’t see this with the testicular tissue grafts in that line.”

With turkeys, Lessard has established a reliable protocol for freezing gonads from newly-hatched chicks, with the next step to optimize the surgical procedures and immunosuppressive treatment to obtain successful growth of the grafts. In terms of the team’s preliminary genetic analysis, they’ve found turkey breeds have a lot of genome ‘admixture’ (many shared genes alleles between breeds), but more samples are needed to confirm this finding. Shared alleles, says Lessard, make it harder to characterize the entire genetic diversity of turkeys and establish what is, and what is not, pure turkey genetics.

Once vitrification of male and female gonadal tissue for chicken and turkeys is complete, the team will launch a national call in 2017 to request genetic samples of fertilized eggs from commercial and heritage breeds. They will also move on to other poultry breeds such as ducks.

Lessard and his colleagues are also creating a germplasm repository (sperm, eggs, gonads, embryos) for other types of livestock from all across Canada. “We are looking for donations from purebred animals in all areas of the country,” he says, “including bison, cattle, sheep, goat, horse, pig, deer, elk and more. It’s going well, and we’re getting more and more participation from livestock associations and individual producers. Right now (in September and October 2016), we are in Ontario and Quebec gathering samples from sheep, goat and beef cattle.” A website letting the public know what has been contributed is being developed and Lessard is looking for more Canadian and international graduate students to tackle all the work.

“We need many samples for poultry and everything else produced in Canada,” he explains. “Genetic characterization of commercial and heritage poultry breeds is extremely important and we need to establish the true diversity of the different poultry breeds produced here. The number of heritage breed birds is shrinking every year, and it’s very important to capture genetics as soon as possible.”

Silversides’ vitrification preservation technique has so far been adopted by the United States Department of Agriculture ‘Agricultural Research Service’ Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Lessard says individuals at that organization have already used the technique to preserve the genetics of several U.S. commercial and heritage breeds. In terms of other groups beyond CAGR working on gonadal transfer, a team in Hungary is currently working to master it.

To make is easier for them and other researchers around the world learn how to successfully complete surgical transfer of vitrified gonads, Lessard has been working on a free tutorial e-book featuring detailed video and audio descriptions of each step. “This strategy (vitrification and gonadal transfer technique) has great potential to preserve the entire genome of a poultry breed and also use that genome fairly easily,” he explains. “We want it to be available to everyone.”
Published in Genetics
Dec. 2, 2016 - Each year the Canadian Animal Health Coalition (CAHC) presents the Carl Block Award to an individual nominated by his or her peers for outstanding contributions in the field of livestock animal health. This award is in memory of Carl Block, who was chair of the CAHC when he passed away as the result of a small plane crash in May 2002.
 
The CAHC has named Dr. Grant Maxie of Puslinch, Ont. as this year’s recipient of the award.  Through his hard work and dedication, Dr. Maxie has made many significant contributions to the Canadian animal health industry.
 
Maxie has been integrally involved in the laboratory management and surveillance scene both in Canada and internationally over his distinguished career. Since 1997 he has been Director of the Animal Health Laboratory (AHL), University of Guelph and since 2007 co-executive director of laboratory services, University of Guelph. In these positions he has provided leadership in several national diagnostic and surveillance initiatives. 

Most recently, he has lead the Animal Health Lab and provided guidance to industry through the recent PEDV and Avian Influenza outbreaks in Ontario. He is the project chair for the Disease Surveillance Plan 2013- 2018, an Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs project, administered by AHL that has enhanced the conduct of disease surveillance in Ontario and has contributed nationally as well.
 
Accompanying Maxie’s nomination for the Carl Block Award were several letters of support from both Canadian and international bodies, which is a testament to his influence globally.
 
In a news release, CAHC says that considering that the primary criteria to receive the Carl Block Award is that recipients demonstrate leadership, commitment and passion for enhancing animal agriculture in Canada, it is easily apparent why Grant Maxie is the 2016 recipient.
Published in Profiles
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