Success in Agriculture
Sept. 22, 2016 - Agriculture More Than Ever has launched a new campaign aimed at encouraging people in the agriculture industry to lend their voice to the food conversation in Canada.

“Be somebody-Be an agvocate” is a multi-faceted campaign that encourages everyone involved in the agriculture industry to be an agvocate by joining social media and having in-person conversations to shape people’s relationship with agriculture.

“Being an agvocate is about adding your voice to the food conversation in positive, engaging and relatable ways,” says Candace Hill, manager of Agriculture More Than Ever. “The campaign is about helping everyone involved in agriculture to connect with the public by sharing their story.”

Surveys continue to show that farmers are one of the most trusted voices when it comes to providing information about farming practices and food production, so it makes sense they be the face and voice for agriculture, according to Hill.

A recent survey by the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity showed 93 per cent of consumers know little or nothing about Canadian farming practices, and a majority (60 per cent) of those respondents indicated they want to know more about farming practices.

“The campaign focuses on showing the real faces of people in agriculture with a strong call to action for everyone in the industry to get involved in the food conversation, no matter how big or small their contribution,” Hill says.

As part of the campaign, individuals who work in various sectors of agriculture submitted video clips of themselves reading a script encouraging others to get involved in telling the real story of Canadian agriculture. Those clips were compiled into a video.

“The video features people from across the country who have come together to add their voice to the food conversation,” Hill continues. “Everyone in agriculture is “somebody” and has a role to play. Watching and sharing the video is just one way individuals can get involved, but there are many ways for people to show their love, pride and passion for an industry.”

Agriculture More Than Ever has attracted over 470 partner organizations and 2,500 individuals committed to creating positive perceptions of agriculture. Launched more than four years ago, Agriculture More Than Ever’s goal is to encourage those involved in agriculture to speak up and speak positively about the industry.

To view the new Agriculture More Than Ever video and learn about other ways to participate, go to, or follow the conversation on Twitter @AgMoreThanEver
Published in Farm Business
Sept. 15, 2016 - When we talk about safety, we often talk about immediate consequences. For example, getting too close to a running power take off can result in immediate, and often catastrophic consequences. It’s important to talk about preventing these life-altering incidents, but it’s also important to talk about how exposure to things in your environment can affect your health, weeks, months or even years down the road.

We make decisions daily that can affect our future selves. We’ve all taken a minute to either thank or criticize our past selves for things we’ve done or not done. Why not set yourself for a healthy future?

There are environmental exposures that occur on and off the farm that can affect our hearing, our respiratory function, and our bones and joints This advice isn’t meant to capture all of these hazards, but is to get you to start thinking about what you’re exposed to.

One of the most wonderful human functions is hearing. The boom of a well-placed slap shot, the hum of a finely-tuned engine, and the pure laughter of a baby are all small joys that we enjoy when our hearing is optimal. Unfortunately, many people experience hearing loss due to noise exposure. This loss is entirely preventable. (If you’ve already lost some hearing – you can retain what you have.) But you have to make a commitment to make some changes. Here are some easy tips to protect your hearing:

  • Recognize when you are being exposed to excessive noise. This isn’t always easy, sometimes you might not expect a task to be noisy, but if you can’t carry on a conversation with someone three feet away without yelling, it’s a good idea to remedy the situation
  • Control excessive noise. Maybe you need a new muffler on that equipment?
  • Create a noise barrier. Close the window to your truck or tractor
  • Select the quietest tool or equipment to do the job.
  • Lastly, select the best and most effective hearing protection for you. Ear plugs and ear muffs work only if you use them consistently and correctly.
Breathing is a good thing. On this, everyone can agree. Keeping our respiratory health in tip-top shape means being aware of the hazards that occur on the farm. Unfortunately, farmers and farm workers have the potential to be exposed to a tremendous variety of respiratory hazards. Some of the most common respiratory hazards include: grain dust, crop protection residues, waste and waste byproducts from insects and animals, and exhaust and fumes from equipment and tools. The health consequences from exposure to these respiratory hazards is long and complicated and varies in severity from mild to catastrophic. Keep these tips in mind:
  • Decrease the generation of dusts and gases by improving management procedures or through engineering controls. An example would be reducing the distance the grain falls when unloading. A short fall means less dust.
  • Remove any contaminants that are in the air. Have good ventilation!
  • Use the right kind of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the job. Make sure the PPE fits, is comfortable and most importantly, wear it! (And replace it once it becomes dirty or worn.)
(These tips do not take into account confined spaces which are very hazardous and require extensive training and equipment to enter safely.)

Creaky bones, sore knees and hip and achy backs are all too common in the farming community. Farmers start out young and strong, but eventually all that repetitive lifting, kneeling, stooping, twisting and shoveling catches up resulting in conditions like arthritis, repetitive strain injuries, tendonitis, muscle inflammation and chronic pain.
  • Try to vary your posture, especially when bending over or when your hands are over your head.
  • Practice good lift hygiene. Lift properly and keep the load close to your body. Ask for help for heavy loads or use a mechanical solution.
  • Use well-maintained, proper tools for the task. Let the tool do the work, not your body.
  • Limit your exposure to vibrations. On older tractors, use vibration-dampening seat cushions. Take breaks from equipment that causes your body to vibrate.
It’s easy to forget that each thing that we do can affect our health in the future. Reminding ourselves that although we may not immediately feel the effects of bad decisions, it can damage our health and vitality in the future.

For more information about farm health and safety, please visit
Published in Farm Business
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

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.
Published in Consumer Issues
The University of Guelph has received $76.6 million from the federal government to start a “digital revolution” in food and agriculture.

The government is investing in U of G’s Food From Thought research project, which will use high-tech information systems to help produce enough food for a growing human population while sustaining the Earth’s ecosystems.

The funding, announced by Lloyd Longfield, MP for Guelph, on behalf of Kirsty Duncan, minister of science, will come from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF), which supports world-leading research at universities and colleges.

It’s the largest single federal research investment in U of G history.

“This will position Canada as a leader in sustainable food production,” said U of G president Franco Vaccarino, adding the project will help farmers produce more food on less land using fewer inputs.

“Our faculty, staff and students will have opportunities to participate in innovative discovery and to play a role in tackling one of the world’s greatest challenges: how to sustainably feed our growing population.”

Longfield added: “The University of Guelph has a long history of collaborating across Canada and globally to contribute to understanding complex challenges. The global food supply will require the University’s unique leadership skills that bring together agricultural expertise, big data, environmental science, business and civil society. Today’s funding announcement will give Canada a huge step forward to become a global leader in food.”

Food From Thought will create novel tools for producing more and safer food while also protecting the environment.

“It is not just how much food we produce but also the way we produce it that will be key in the next century,” said Prof. Malcolm Campbell, vice-president (research), who is the institutional lead for Food From Thought and a plant genomicist in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.

New technology and agricultural practices must enhance biodiversity, produce safe, nutritious food, and improve animal welfare and human health, he said.

U of G is well-placed to lead this project, Campbell said. “We are Canada’s food university, with a 150-year legacy in agri-food and a reputation for innovation and commitment. We also have the capacity, with world-class researchers and facilities, and strong partnerships with government and industry.”

Geography professor Evan Fraser, scientific director of Food From Thought and director of U of G’s Food Institute, said launching a digital revolution will require improved understanding of the complex interplay between farming practices, the genetic potential of our crops and livestock, and the environment.

“This is essential if we are to realize the potential offered by our emerging ability to collect vast amounts of data and to develop information management systems,” he said.

Food From Thought will bring together experts to generate and commercialize knowledge, and to inform agri-food policy-makers and practices from farm management to global conservation planning.

The initiative will offer new teaching and research opportunities, and will focus on training the next generation of agri-food leaders through fellowships and graduate student positions.

More than $1 million will be available for annual research awards and competitions intended to develop innovations for sustainable food systems.

Within Food From Thought, researchers will work on key scientific missions including:

Expanding use of DNA barcoding technology developed at U of G to identify food fraud, food-borne ailments and invasive pests, and to improve environmental impact assessments;

Using “big data” on farms to reduce pesticide use, monitor watershed health and identify crops suited to the effects of climate change; and

Using information management systems to help track emerging infectious disease threats to livestock and control pathogens in the food supply.

Food From Thought includes partnerships with academic institutions around the globe, numerous government agencies, and industry and innovation centres.

One key partner is IBM Canada, which will be involved in everything from research collaborations to cognitive and data analytics tools and training to secure cloud-based storage.

“IBM shares the scientific vision of Food From Thought: ensuring that we sustainably, resiliently and safely increase production while enhancing ecosystem services and livestock health and welfare using data-driven approaches,” said Sanjeev Gill, research executive at IBM Canada.

Food From Thought will be one of U of G’s largest and most inclusive research projects, spanning all seven colleges. It will be led by 10 principal investigators from across campus.

This funding announcement was part of a $900-million competition lasting several months and involving a review panel of Canadian and international scientific experts. This is the second CFREF competition since 2014.

Published in Consumer

July 26, 2016 - The Agricultural Institute of Canada (AIC) has released its 2016 Conference Report (the Report) that summarizes the need for the agricultural sector to better disseminate research results to producers, farmers, industry, academia, consumers and among the research community.  A number of findings and recommendations are included in the Report.

One key finding is that research dissemination has often been neglected in past policy development or is left until the end of the project cycle, which needs to change in order to increase stakeholder engagement and allow for greater impact of results.  Another is that the sector needs to find new ways to incent and support knowledge transfer activities.

“Last year, we broke new ground by releasing Canada’s first-ever agricultural research policy, a long-standing objective for the sector and for AIC," says Serge Buy, CEO for AIC.  This year, we are continuing our work by raising awareness of the need to better communicate and disseminate agricultural research.  We need to collectively ensure that game-changing results have the impact that they deserve in Canada and internationally.”

The Report also discusses the role that Intellectual Property (IP) has to play in the dissemination of research outcomes.  Although the commercialization of research results can certainly lead to a positive rate of return on investment, IP management is often debated or misunderstood and not recognized as a potential dissemination route for Canadian innovations.

The Report focuses on three key themes:

  • Dissemination Strategies and Participation Channels for Agricultural Research
  • Knowledge Transfer (KT) and Extension
  • IP Protection, Cooperation and Collaboration

The Report is a summary of the input gathered in policy discussions with researchers, government officials and other industry stakeholders at the annual AIC Conference that took place in April 2016.

A subsequent, in-depth Best Practices Report for Research Dissemination that highlights a number of best practices from across the sector will be released by AIC in late Summer 2016.

To view the 2016 Conference Report click here.

Highlights of the report

“A scientific breakthrough that could dramatically change how farmers harvest, or manufacturers prepare a certain product, is discovered in a lab.  How do we get this vital information from the research to benefit the end user?” – Theme 1, Page 8

“…farming has become an increasingly complex undertaking. The sector must find ways to unpack the complexity and tell stories in clear, uncomplicated ways to deliver strong, but accurate messages using adequate channels.” – Theme 1, Page 10

“The inclusion of funding for KT and extension activities in the next Federal-Provincial-Territorial Policy Framework…and enhanced collaboration across the sector can enable the environment needed to implement new participatory research methods and enable effective knowledge transfer.” – Theme 2, Page 15

“Intellectual property rights (IPR) affect nearly every part of the research process from initial development to the sharing of results with other researchers.  It is also an area of great debate and misunderstanding not only in agricultural research but also in other areas of scientific research.” – Theme 3, Page 19

“Stronger IP agreements and partnerships can also help Canadian agricultural research achieve a competitive advantage at the international level.” – Theme 3, Page 20

Published in New Technology

April 13, 2016 – Andrew Campbell of Strathroy has been named the 2016 recipient of the Farm & Food Care Ontario Champion Award.

The award was presented at Farm & Food Care’s annual meeting on April 13 by Bruce Christie, a Farm & Food Care board member. Campbell was nominated for the award by the Middlesex Federation of Agriculture, with letters of support provided by Dairy Farmers of Ontario and writers from – a consumer-facing blog site populated by young Ontario farmers.

Middlesex Federation of Agriculture spokesperson Lucia Lilbourne describes Campbell as an eloquent individual who willingly takes every opportunity to engage consumers, and one who is very proactive in tackling challenges through a variety of channels. Justin Williams and Scott Snyder, farmers who write for Dinner Starts Here, says Campbell is “a true leader in the social media movement in Canadian agriculture.” They credit his hard work as the reason Dinner Starts Here is an effective consumer outreach initiative.

While active on a number of different media platforms, nominators cite Campbell’s #Farm365 initiative – a twitter campaign where he tweeted one photo a day from his farm – as a crowning achievement. The initiative, which lasted officially throughout 2015, was intended to give Canadians a look at dairy farming in Ontario; it garnered Campbell 17,500 Twitter followers, attracted international support and attention, and continues to be used by farmers and agricultural advocates in countries across the globe.

Campbell is also a dynamic speaker and volunteer, says Ralph Dietrich, chair of the board for Dairy Farmers of Ontario, which also participated in the successful program. Dietrich noted that Campbell has appeared on programs such as CTV and CBC News, CTV Canada AM, The Agenda with Steve Paikin and more. He and his #Farm365 initiative has also been the subject of many news articles, and he continues to act as a spokesperson for his industry in many formats.

Campbell is also an effective communications trainer and facilitator. According to the nominators, he is always willing to help others positively promote Canadian agriculture, whether through communications training, debate facilitation or volunteering his farm for events.

“Andrew is a true leader and an excellent representative for the next generation of farmers,” says Dietrich.The Champion Award has been presented annually, since 1999, to worthy agricultural advocates.

Farm & Food Care Ontario is a coalition of farmers, agriculture and food partners proactively working together to ensure public trust and confidence in food and farming. For more information visit

Published in Producers

For some, the internet is a mysterious place where it seems impossible to know who to reach or how to reach them. It boils down to a guessing game, a bit like throwing darts blindfolded.

But if you’re not reaching the right audiences — particularly as more consumers rely on online sources for information about food — your efforts may be falling flat.

The internet has obliterated the traditional model of mass communication, where only a few push information to us. Now, masses of communicators generate masses of information and ordinary people can have extraordinary influence online.

With no clear direction, communicators in food and agriculture often attempt to reach as many consumers as they can. The more, the better, right?

Not so, especially when resources like time, staffing and budgets are limited, and in a digital environment where getting your information into the hands of the right people can have a big impact.

Make your hard work pay off by reaching the right people — the influencers who not only are content finders, but content generators and sharers. That’s how you amplify your message and move the needle.

Food tribes
The Center for Food Integrity (CFI), through extensive research on consumer food system attitudes, has identified eight food tribes — providing a framework for engaging influential groups of consumers in a manner that’s most meaningful to them.

The research was conducted as part of our 2015 study on building trust through transparency — research that utilized focus groups, online qualitative surveys and a robust quantitative study of more than 2,000 U.S. consumers.

We not only identified the tribes that are important to the food system but also the tribe leaders — the Early Adopters who drive the conversations, lead trends and influence the direction consumers want to see the food system head. No need to reach the entire tribe when you can find just a handful of influencers.

Understanding each tribe, from Delightful Indulgers™ and Cynical Skeptic™ to Cost Consumed™ and Socially Sensitive™, helps us provide the information they’re looking for when it comes to the food system and food in general.

The research shows that three of the tribes deserve special attention when it comes to building trust:

Mindful masters

  • Most common sources of information: websites, Google, friends not online (rank order)
  • Level of concern with all issues is significantly higher than other segments
  • More than two-thirds are Early Adopters who are likely to actively seek information, generate unique content, share it and drive conversations

System satisfied

  • Most common sources of information: websites, Google, family not online (rank order)
  • Level of concern with all issues is significantly higher than most other segments
  • More than half identify as Early Adopters who are less likely to generate content but will read and share it

Cost consumed

  • Most common sources of information: friends not online, websites, family not online (rank order)
  • Level of concern with all issues is significantly higher than most other segments
  • More than half classify as Early Adopters who are likely to read content, but not as likely to share far and wide unless it’s with immediate family and friends online

These three tribes represent a significant portion of the population and, most importantly, CFI research confirms that increasing transparency builds their trust.

Following a recent food topic blogger tour coordinated by CFI, 13 bloggers who were carefully selected based on their “tribal” influence wrote about their tour experience. They were given no parameters as to what to write — if anything.

But the bloggers did write. Their reviews were positive and their stories were shared with a combined 940,000 followers, which resulted in 1.3 million immediate impressions. There’s no doubt that many of those reached were content sharers as well, amplifying the reach exponentially. So, in a relative blink of an eye, reaching 13 translated to reaching a million or more. That’s the power of finding the right tribe leaders.

The food tribes are featured in our 2015 research, “A Clear View of Transparency and How it Builds Trust,” which is available for download:

Published in Emerging Trends

Avian influenza (AI) is without a doubt one of the biggest concerns for the global poultry industry. New outbreaks occur in most regions of the world every year, and according to Arjan Stegeman of Utrecht University in The Netherlands, it’s a problem that is only going to get worse. Stegeman was a keynote speaker at the International Egg Commission’s Global Leadership Conference in Berlin last September. His talk, Understanding AI, opened what would be an interesting week.

The unpredictability of AI
Commonly called the bird flu, AI is an infectious viral disease that occurs in birds, particularly in wild waterfowl, such as geese and ducks. AI viruses can be sub-divided into two groups, high pathogenic and low pathogenic AI. This division is based on their ability to cause disease in poultry. Low pathogenic viruses can cause mild symptoms, like gut trouble, whereas high pathogenic viruses result in high mortality rates, sometimes up to 100 per cent in just 48 hours.

Avian influenza ranges from H1–H17 types; only H5 and H7 are highly pathogenic, though. While highly pathogenic viruses are always categorized as either H5 or H7, not all H5 or H7 viruses are highly pathogenic. H5 and H7 viruses are actually quite similar, Stegeman said. In fact, it’s only a very small part of the gene encoding that is different.

High pathogenic viruses, however, can arise from low pathogenic types. “Sometimes we know that this happens quite quickly, so on the same farm where the virus was introduced,” said Stegeman. “And other times it can take more than half a year, like we’ve seen in Italy. That is something that we would like to understand better.”

Another peculiar feature of this virus is that it can easily exchange genetic material. “If a duck gets infected by the H5N1 virus, and at the same time an N8 virus, a new virus can arise from that,” Stegeman explained. That virus would be referred to as H5N8.

“This happened, for example, with the H5N2 virus that has arisen in the United States,” Stegeman continued. “So this virus has all kinds of tricky features that can make it survive in the population and change its nature in a way that is very difficult to catch.”

While high pathogenic viruses wreak the most havoc, they’re the quickest to be diagnosed by the farmer. Transmission, said Stegeman, is pretty much the same as it is with the low pathogenic viruses. The concentration of the virus is much higher in high pathogenic types though.

In the past 10 to 15 years, there have been a number of interesting occurrences in highly pathogenic AI. For one, the scientific literature before 2003 showed that epidemics of new sub-types (H5N1 or H7N7) always arose from the introduction of a new low-path virus, which then mutated to a high path virus. This still happens today, only now, wild birds have entered the equation. The hypothesis, Stegeman explained, is that the H5N1 epidemic was not effectively controlled in some countries, and spillover of the virus to wild birds occurred. In fact, experts agree that H5N1 was the first high pathogenic AI to be widely spread through the movement of wild birds. Today, it is possible for several wild bird species to be high pathogenic H5 infected without showing any signs at all.

Global spread of H5N8 explained
The global spread of the H5N8 virus began in China and South Korea. Later, it spread to Europe. As of November 2014, the virus had spread further to Canada and the United States. Interestingly, though, the pattern of spread does not match the migratory routes of wild birds, Stegeman said.

The virus, he explained, spread first from China and South Korea to Siberia. There, birds from Western Europe and Asia mixed and the resulting viruses were brought to Europe in the spring. A similar thing happened in North America.

There are tools available to evaluate the genetic differences between viruses, and results have shown that many only differ by one genetic position. “For the rest, this is not what we see,” said Stegeman. “What we see is something that is really very scattered with really huge differences between these viruses. What this means is that we’re dealing with separate introductions, and not between-farm transmission. The most likely cause of that is the wild bird population.”

Differences between the U.S. and Europe
In April of 2015, what has since been described as the worst animal disease outbreak in the history of the U.S. began. On April 12, the first birds tested positive for high pathogenic AI on a 200,000-bird cage-free operation in Wisconsin. On April 20, a five million bird operation in Iowa was hit.

“From April 20 until the middle of June, it was absolutely crazy,” Chad Gregory of United Egg Producers in the U.S., told the crowd in Berlin. “Every single day, seven days a week, 24 hours a day it was quite the experience – Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota.”

Ultimately, the outbreak ended up wiping out some 35 million egg-laying hens, and another five to six million pullets.

“Those 35 million egg-laying hens represented about 12 per cent of the entire U.S. flock,” Gregory said. “And unfortunately 30 million of the 35 million we lost were dedicated to the egg product market.”

The U.S. turkey industry lost almost eight million turkeys, primarily in the Iowa and Minnesota areas. In total, 223 premises tested positive.

“We didn’t know what to do in the beginning,” Gregory said. “We felt like there was just so much chaos going on in those first couple of days.”

But what made the U.S. situation so much different than the European cases? Dr. Klaus-Peter Behr of AniCon in Germany explained.

The H5N8 virus that hit both Europe and North America originated in Southeast Asia. This virus found its way with migrating birds via Russia to Europe and via Alaska and Canada to several U.S. states. “On its way to the U.S. it mingled up with an H9N2 virus and became the H5N2 virus hitting the U.S. poultry industry,” Behr said.

The U.S. virus experienced a severe delay or incubation period, whereas the original H5N8 needed only two days from infection before severe mortality began. In the U.S., mortality didn’t begin for eight to 10 days.

“This difference gave the U.S. virus a whole additional week to intensively multiply and spread without being obviously present, as shown by increased mortality,” Behr said.

In Europe, poultry producers had a tremendous advantage, since the virus became obvious very quickly after introduction on the farm. “This was the crucial difference that made it possible to stop spreading of the virus one week earlier than in the U.S. cases,” Behr concluded.

AI isn't going anywhere
Most experts agree; AI isn’t going anywhere. That’s not to say, though, that producers are helpless. “I think, as many of you realize, we may have to live with bird flu for quite a while,” Stegeman said at the end of his presentation. “That does not mean that we cannot do anything because introductions for known pathogenic virus will remain. But it does leave us wondering what will happen with future outbreaks with the highly pathogenic virus, especially given that all the migratory birds are now coming back.”

Published in Barn Management


There have been a lot of news stories lately about barn fires in Ontario. Without exception, the stories have been tragic and the incidents devastating to these farm families in so many ways – with the loss of animals being at the very top of that list. Often, a barn fire affects an entire community with neighbours joining together to support each other and help clean up the terrible aftermath. Economic concerns, while very real, are always secondary to the loss of farm animals that these farmers have raised and nurtured.

And it doesn’t matter what type of farm animals are involved. The dairy farmer who milks his or her barn full of cows every morning and night – and knows each of their individual traits – is as emotionally affected as a pig farmer, horse owner or chicken farmer like me.

Many of the news stories of late have focused on one central theme: more needs to be done to prevent similar incidents. Ontario’s farming community couldn’t agree more. Work is always being done on prevention methods and on improved barn designs that are better able to withstand such threats. But even with the best contingency planning, no amount of precaution will ever entirely rule out the chance that a fire may start.

Unfortunately, installing sprinkler systems also isn’t a workable solution in many cases although that idea has been suggested often lately. Farms generally source their water from wells with pumps that require electricity. If power is turned off to the barn to fight the fire, the wells and water supply would no longer operate.

Barn fires can be one of the most challenging things that first responders can face. Arriving at a structural barn fire with animals poses unique challenges. These can be large structures in rural areas with no access to fire hydrants or a continuous supply of water for firefighting. Many first responders are not familiar with barn design or animal handling, making the scene even more dangerous and challenging than a typical structure fire. Add to this the fact that barns contain feed and bedding materials that are flammable (and pose potential risks not found in residential homes) and the result is almost never good – a barn can be completely engulfed in less than six minutes. In a rural setting this means the barn is usually fully engulfed when the fire department arrives.

Over the last 10 years, Ontario farmers have helped to pay for and deliver training to over 1,000 first responders (including police and firefighters) on emergency responses to barn fires and accidents involving livestock. Many rural fire departments, staffed with volunteer firefighters, are also organizing barn fire education programs for their responders so that they better understand how barns in their coverage area are built and the types of livestock found within. These programs also offer the opportunity for farmers in their region to highlight potential risks.

Every barn built in Canada must meet the standards outlined in the National Farm Building Code of Canada. These regulations continue to be updated and reviewed nationally.  Ultimately education, risk prevention and diligence are the keys to preventing barn fires from starting in the first place.

While the number of barn fires in Ontario has actually decreased in recent years, according to the Office of the Fire Marshal, the recent incidents have highlighted to everyone how devastating these situations can be. The headlines also serve as a constant reminder to farmers to review their fire prevention plans.

Through coordinated efforts and awareness we can continue to reduce the risk of barn fires impacting Ontario farms and farmers.

A library of resources on how to prevent barn fires and other livestock emergencies is housed online on the Farm & Food Care Ontario website:

John Maaskant is a chicken farmer in Ontario and current chair of Farm & Food Care Ontario





Published in Farm Business


When you are suspicious, it is very important to have fast lab results and quick depopulation of live birds if the results are positive. As the disease progresses through a farm, the environmental contamination grows and promotes the spreading,” said Dr. Jill Nezworski, Blue House Veterinary, during her presentation at the “Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza – Lessons Learned” education program held during the 2016 International Production & Processing Expo (IPPE) in Atlanta, Ga. Nezworski discussed “Lessons Learned in the Layer Industry” in which she provided comparisons and contrasts between early detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) on farms and late detection due to mortality.

Nezworski observed that diagnosis of HPAI should be communicated to employees in an organized chain of command, and every hourly employee must also be educated and empowered. “False alarms may come up, but it is more important to create a culture in which it is fine to be wrong or overcautious,” she says. She emphasized that it is essential to have a quick and realistic depopulation plan, as well as a primary plan and a backup plan for carcass disposal. After depopulation is over, she underscored the need for the entire site to be decontaminated with the thought that even outside premises still likely accumulate viral contamination. Nezworski stressed that big risks should be addressed, and management should make it hard for the system to fail.

During his presentation on “Lessons Learned in the Turkey Industry,” Dr. Ben Wileman, Ag Forte, reflected that a clear sign of HPAI on a turkey farm is when a person enters the house and the turkeys are quiet. Wileman observed that when sick, animals develop neurologic signs, twist their necks and have tremors. He recommended, “When in doubt, test it.”

Dr. Lindsey Garber, USDA APHIS, Veterinary Services, provided an overview of the “Epidemiology of the Recent AI Outbreak” that addressed the results of two studies, one with HPAI infected layer farms and the other with turkeys. The two studies concentrated on potential risk factors for the spread of HPAI, including rendering and garbage trucks, shared equipment use, visitors, wild bird presence, etc. The result from both studies centered on the need for effective and efficient biosecurity measures at all levels.


Published in Farm Business

February 3, 2016 – Farm, Food & Beyond: Our Commitment to Sustainability is a collaboration of Ontario’s farmers and food and beverage processors. Launched in 2015, its mandate is to create a sustainability initiative that builds upon the success of existing Ontario programs.

Retailers, food service companies and manufactures in the industry have been demanding greater transparency and advanced record keeping from producers and suppliers using environmental and social criteria. However, some international standards for sustainability are more suited to agriculture in developing countries and don’t consider the higher social, environmental and economic standards in developed countries like Canada.

Farmers and manufacturers see a need for harmonizing duplicative standards to reduce the burden of reporting, while recognizing there is equivalency in many categories. Farm, Food & Beyond’s intent is to limit redundancy. To that end, funding was secured from the Grand River Agricultural Society to complete a GAP analysis of 10 national and international sustainability programs compared to Ontario’s current Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) and Growing Your Farm Profits (GYFP) programs. The raw data analysis of the GAP assessment, including specific questions and comparisons, is also available upon request.

From a content perspective, EFP/GYFP programs met or exceeded the other sustainability programs in 82 per cent of identified performance areas. Dr. Gord Surgeoner, chair of the steering committee, says he was encouraged by the findings.

Says Surgeoner, “We are very pleased with the results of this GAP analysis. We knew the Ontario programs would do well but they did very well when compared to international equivalents. The steering committee will now use these findings to design a program that provides solutions to the gaps identified through the research.

”The next step in the project will be to hire a project manager using recently secured GF2 funding. This manager will be tasked to begin discussions with all levels of the supply chain (producers, processors, retailers, food service, NGOs and consumer groups) to obtain support and commitment for the program. A draft framework will then be designed based on the feedback received.

The initiative has been developed by the following supporters: The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), Christian Farmers’ Federation of Ontario (CFFO), the Presidents’ Council, Ontario Agri Food Technologies, the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA), Farm & Food Care Ontario, Provision Coalition and the Food Institute of the University of Guelph. Representatives from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada participated in an observer capacity.

A report entitled Our Commitment to Sustainability, which serves as a basis for the project, is now available online at

Published in Farm Business


The 5th International Symposium on Managing Animal Mortalities, Products, By-Products and Associated Health Risks was held Sept. 28 – Oct. 1, 2015 in Lancaster, Pa. Through presentations, tours, hands-on activities and networking opportunities, participants were able to discuss effective plans and methods aimed at protecting animal health, human health, economies, communities and our environment during routine and emergency animal mortality management. Symposium participants also were encouraged to strengthen new and existing networks in order to identify current gaps or capability challenges in animal mortality management and work together to develop solutions.

“We wanted our participants to think about creating systems that work effectively and quickly to manage mass animal mortality events,” said Dale Rozeboom, Ph.D., Michigan State University professor and extension specialist and Symposium Chair. “Gaps can exist in many areas – from depopulation, disposal and decontamination to administration of response, funding availability and communication between national, state and local government agencies.”

Keynote speaker Tim Goldsmith, DVM, MPH, DACVPM, University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine assistant professor and co-director of the Veterinary Public Health and Preventative Medicine Residency Program, explained the
importance of understanding risk in planning for and responding to catastrophic animal disease and how meetings like the Symposium are crucial for providing the tools needed to manage risk.

“Risks associated with catastrophic animal disease go beyond the health of the animal – it affects people, communities, and industries,” Goldsmith said. “Zero risk is not possible and we shouldn’t strive for zero, but, we need to look at the risk management possibilities out there for activities with significant risk in order to lower those risks to an acceptable level for all stakeholders involved in the management of a disease event.”

Tim Rueter, Ph.D., Livestock Research Branch of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, spoke about managing high-risk pathogens through composting. Another plenary speaker, Patrick Webb, DVM, director of swine health programs at the National Pork Board, explained lessons learned in the swine industry and its recent experience with an outbreak of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus. Webb described response strategies and methods used for managing mortality and morbidity during an emerging disease outbreak significantly impacting swine production and the effects of the disease on U.S. pork producers.

The Symposium began with a day-long tour of Pennsylvania’s diverse agriculture industry – including dairy, beef, poultry and swine operations. Participants were able to see biosecurity procedures, routine composting, anaerobic digestion and in-vessel mortality composting at different local farms. Tour locations also included livestock truck wash sanitation stations that are vital to biosecurity and the health of people and animals involved in the farm’s operations.

Attendees also visited the Southeast Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Landisville, Pennsylvania. Demonstrations were hosted by experts and showed emergency windrow composting, carcass reduction, portable vehicle wash systems, wastewater treatment systems and humane euthanasia methods for livestock and poultry. The demonstration of techniques and challenges of foam euthanasia of poultry was particularly relevant, as many of the participants have been actively involved in response to the recent Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak in the U.S. flock.

HPAI was further explored through a producer’s viewpoint with plenary speaker Mark Van Oort, complex manager for the Center Fresh Egg Farm – one of America’s leading egg producers. Van Oort guided Center Fresh Egg Farm through the 2015 outbreak of HPAI with a response that included large-scale euthanasia, carcass disposal, manure disposal and virus education through composting, control of a quarantine zone to control virus spread, and large scale cleaning and disinfecting.

“Immediately, I had planned to compost the birds,” Van Oort said. “We had dabbled in composting a bit before but not with 7.3 million birds – more like seven. We had to develop a cookbook and become resourceful . . . There were many lessons learned throughout this crisis and it’s certainly something that we hope to not have to deal with again.”

In order to understand the issues and to apply research opportunities and lessons learned from the 2015 HPAI outbreak response, the Symposium’s emergency exercise focused on response to a notional HPAI outbreak. Through breakout sessions and participating in facilitated scenario discussions, participants analyzed the notional outbreak on multiple levels (single farm, multiple farms, state, nationally and internationally) and identified issues and research opportunities related to depopulation, disposal, cleaning and decontamination and business continuity plans for the management of realistic issues that may occur during an outbreak.

Symposium planning committee members Edward Malek, Ontario Operational Specialist for Animal Health, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Duncan Worsfold, Statewide Specialist in Animal Emergency Preparedness, Agriculture Services and Biosecurity for the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport & Resources of Echuca, Victoria, Australia, served as moderators for the exercise. The two envisioned that this emergency exercise would not only allow the participants to understand lessons learned, but also better prepare attendees to gather information and concepts for the development of collaborative discussions that may apply should an outbreak like this happen in their area in the future.

The Symposium’s focus extended beyond the U.S. borders through an international panel of experts who convened to discuss their perspectives and experiences on animal mortality management. This session included a plenary address from Heekwon Ahn, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Animal Biosystems Science at Chungnam National University in South Korea, who discussed his experiences and the response of the South Korean government during the 2011 South Korea Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak. The panel included representatives from: Vietnam, the Republic of Georgia, Australia, South Korea, Tunisia, the United Kingdom, Canada and Nigeria.

Technical presentations explored new and emerging technologies for euthanasia, carcass treatment and disinfection, carcass management, federal and state planning, disease mitigation strategies, depopulation and disposal and all hazards. The Symposium also included exhibits and software demonstrations.

Though the Symposium has concluded, the group’s work continues. Over the next year, the planning committee will produce a white paper for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and continue to collaborate with participants in order to advance the preparedness of the industry for a mass animal mortality event.

The Symposium was hosted by Penn State Extension. To learn more about the Symposium, go to



Published in Farm Business


The spring and summer of 2015 have been challenging for the American egg industry. After losing more than 35 million laying hens to Avian Influenza, producers were put to the test in containing and mitigating the situation. Thankfully, American farmers are repopulating their barns and getting back in the game.

Their unfortunate situation has certainly made us wonder if such a crisis could occur in Canada.

While it certainly could, the difference between our industry’s structure and that of the U.S. makes it less likely. In the U.S. they have a little over 200 egg farms concentrated in certain regions to feed more than 300 million people, we have over 1,000 egg farms across Canada to feed 35 million people. Obviously the number and scale of operations is also different between the two countries. The average flock size in Canada is 20,000 whereas in the U.S. the average is more than 1 million birds. This concentrated production, and the higher volume of vehicles, equipment and people in those areas, increases the potential for negative consequences due to Avian Influenza.

What allows our relatively small family farms to operate and thrive is supply management. By making it possible for smaller farms to stay in business generation after generation, we maintain ample farms in every province and in the Northwest Territories. That means all Canadians have access to local eggs, and it also means both farmers and consumers have price stability. This stability allow farmers to reinvest in national animal welfare and food safety programs and industrial R&D.

That’s not to say we’re in any way impervious to Avian Influenza. In Canada, a large outbreak occurred in 2004 in B.C., and there were subsequent cases in 2008, 2009 and 2010. We also had cases last year in B.C. and earlier this year in Ontario. Canada has world class standards for on-farm food safety and biosecurity. Because of this, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, working with industry and stakeholders at the national and provincial levels, was able to contain and eradicate each outbreak. U.S. biosecurity standards are very similar to Canada. However, the sheer size of U.S. operations make them more vulnerable to breaches due to the higher number of inputs and outputs at each farm.

In the wake of this crisis and with the fall migratory season looming large, Egg Farmers of Canada has invested $500,000 in research being led by the U.S.’s Egg Industry Center. This work will provide practical solutions for producers and ensure a safe and secure way forward for the North American industries.

So, while it is impossible to speculate about the future impacts, and while Avian Influenza remains a clear and present threat that knows no geographic boundaries, surely this is an illustration where our relatively modest size and scale of operations can be seen to be a strong plus on the side of sheet of things that work in our favour. And alongside that, would be a host of other factors—from price stability to continuous reinvestment to smaller scope and scale - that help us manage the risk.


Published in Farm Business


A large increase in egg quotas combined with a new B.C. Egg Marketing Board (BCEMB) order increasing the minimum space/bird are forcing B.C. egg producers to consider how best to meet the new requirements.

Since the BCEMB has not outlawed caged egg production (as some U.S. states have done), some producers have chosen to simply add extra footage and extra cages to their barns and reduce the number of birds/cage. Others have decided to make a complete change in their operations.

Ken Vanderkooi of Kenettas Farms chose the latter option. Aug. 12th, a week before the first layer barn was to be populated, he invited industry to tour his brand new state-of-the-art multi-million dollar farm.

Not just the barns and equipment are new. Vanderkooi has been farming in poultry-dense Abbotsford but his new farm is located across the Fraser River where the nearest poultry barn is about a kilometre away.

“I am isolated over here but still only half an hour from Abbotsford,” Vanderkooi says, adding “after avian influenza hit the area in 2004, I said it wasn’t going to catch me a second time.”

He bought a second farm in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island (operated and now owned by his son, Dwayne) “to be away from all the farms here in the valley” but continued to farm in Abbotsford.

He almost waited too long to move the rest of his birds. Just over a month after starting to build the new farm, AI again surged through the Fraser Valley but, fortunately, he and most other local farmers escaped unscathed.

New Barn Features
The new farm includes two 40X450 foot layer barns and a 36X255-foot pullet barn. All three barns are built with the Octaform system with its food-grade PVC-finish.

“Octaform is completely sealed, Canadian Food Inspection Agency approved and cleans up a lot better than plywood,” says equipment supplier Leo Apperloo of United Agri Systems. “I expect the coating to last at least 15-20 years.”

The layer barns have tunnel ventilation with TPI shutter inlets instead of doors while the pullet barn has a two-stage ventilation system, also with TPI shutter inlets. New to B.C., the TPI inlets keep the tunnel ventilation system slimmer, eliminate the need for an outer alcove and better direct the air. When inlets first open, they direct the air towards the ceiling but when the system fully kicks in (400 cubic feet/minute), the shutter position forces the air to the floor maximizing airflow through the barn.

As isolated as the location is, as impressive as the buildings are, as innovative as the ventilation system may be, they pale in comparison to the equipment within: the Valli enriched colony system. Although Valli international sales manager Paolo Zazzeri notes there are already “many” units in the prairie provinces, this is the first in B.C.

Vanderkooi says his son Jon, who will run and eventually own the farm, selected the system.

“Jon is responsible for everything we have done here, including the barn design. He had seen the Valli system working in Italy and told me that’s what he really wanted,” he says. “I agreed as he has to be happy because he is the one working the system and the one who will eventually have to pay for it.”

Vanderkooi admits the system is unlikely to increase productivity but will improve livability, noting it meets the requirements of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other animal welfare advocate groups.  

“I believe this is where the industry’s future is,” he says.

The system includes 711 “colonies” in three tiers. Each colony is 10 feet long and 5.91 feet wide and designed to accommodate 72 birds, giving the entire system a total capacity of 51,192 layers. This gives the Vanderkoois plenty of room for future quota increases as their current quota holding is about 45,000 birds.

They can even increase their flock size well beyond 51,000 birds in future as the barns are tall enough to accommodate a fourth tier.

“We use heavy-duty steel construction so we can go up to 12 tiers if we need to,” Zazzeri states.

Colony features
Each colony includes a feeding/living area with LED lighting and a darkened nesting area. The feeding area includes 12 cm of feeding space/bird and 15 cm of perch/bird. There is both a central feeding system and an external feed trough. In an interesting innovation, there is a perforated guard the birds step on as they access the feed trough. The perforations are intended to shorten the nails.

Strips hanging in the nesting area keep light to a minimum, a plastic mesh on the floor keeps birds from touching wire while they are laying and a cover on the outside grate prevents them from accessing the feed trough.

“If they’re not eating, they’re not defecating, so you cleaner eggs,” Zazzeri says.

The egg belt is 14 cm wide and guarded by an egg saver wire and shocker wire. The wires lift up several times a day to release the eggs onto the belt. The belt is programmed to move three times a day so the entire belt is filled even though 98 per cent of eggs are being laid in the small nesting section of each colony.

“The egg belt has capacity for two days lay although most farms do egg collections once a day,” Zazzeri states.

A manure dryer and blower unit running down the centre of the colony ensures manure is relatively dry. The manure belt has a support every foot and discharges into an external manure storage building.

“We have built enough storage so we only have to empty it once a year,” Vanderkooi says.

The pullet barn has 1332 rearing cages in three rows of three tiers each. Each cage measures 1000 X 705 mm and intended to hold 20 birds for a total capacity of 26,640 birds. Although the piping for the manure dryer has been installed, it is not being used.

“We are going to put at least one pullet flock through without the dryer and see how it goes,” Vanderkooi says.

Although this is the first such installation in the province, Apperloo says it will not be the last. Another is being installed in December and several other farmers have expressed serious interest.

“We have been incredibly busy,” Apperloo says, “with the change in regulations and today’s low interest rates, farmers are investing in new barns and new equipment. We have put in 40 aviaries in the last three years as well as conventional cages and the Valli enriched colony system.”


Published in Layers

April 15, 2015 – Brent Royce of Listowel has been named the 2015 recipient of the Farm & Food Care Champion Award. The award was presented at Farm & Food Care’s annual meeting on April 15 by Bruce Christie, a Farm & Food Care board member. Royce was nominated for the award by Turkey Farmers of Ontario (TFO) and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.

Royce grows crops and raises turkeys on his family farm and has been involved in farming for his entire life. Royce is a strong advocate for agriculture, using every opportunity available to him to talk about farming with non-farming Canadians. He was among the first to sign up for Farm & Food Care’s Speak Up ambassador training, and has since become a regular interviewee by many Canadian (both rural and urban) media sources. Royce also actively engages the public through social media using Twitter.

Since 2011 he has posted over 4,500 tweets about the day-to-day workings of his farm, and has engaged audiences with several blog posts. Royce and his family also hosted a television crew to film their farm for a virtual turkey farm tour which is now housed at

He is a graduate of the Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program, is a long-serving volunteer on the Perth Federation of Agriculture, is a director representing Huron and Perth counties for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and is chairman of the Uncontrolled Electricity Working Group –a committee working to help manage uncontrolled electricity and its adverse effects of livestock farmers.

Royce is also involved with both the Innovative Farmers’ Association of Ontario and the Perth County Soil and Crop Improvement Association. In its nomination, Turkey Farmers of Ontario described Royce as “a passionate turkey farmer and great agricultural advocate.” His industry involvement and public outreach, said TFO General Manager Janet Schlitt, makes him an ideal candidate for the recognition.

Bruce Christie, chair of the Farm & Food Care Foundation, describes Royce as a worthy candidate for the award.

“Ontario agriculture needs strong spokespeople to talk about food and farming," says Christie. "Mr. Royce uses every opportunity to do just that whether it’s engaging through social media or talking with consumers one on one.”

The award was originally created in 1999 by the Ontario Farm Animal Council (OFAC) to recognize individuals, organizations and businesses. With the amalgamation of OFAC and AGCare in 2012, the award was renamed and is presented annually to a worthy agricultural advocate.

Published in Producers

Jake Kraayenbrink’s AgriBrink technology is now ready for the market in Europe – several years after he first headed there himself in search of a solution to soil compaction problems on his farm near Moorefield, Ontario.     Photo by Lilian Schaer

November 28, 2014 - An automatic air inflation deflation system (AAID) developed by a southwestern Ontario hog farmer is ready to go global.

Jake Kraayenbrink’s AgriBrink technology is ready for the market in Europe – several years after he first headed there himself in search of a solution to soil compaction problems on his farm near Moorefield, Ont.

Farmers need light, loose soil to plant crops, but the soil becomes hard – almost like cement – when heavy farm machinery passes over it. This means water can’t drain properly and plant roots are unable to get into the ground to get at the nutrients they need to grow.

With AgriBrink, a control box in the tractor cab allows the user to inflate and deflate the tires to match the ideal tire pressure for the weight and speed of the equipment being used.

Equipment tires can be deflated in about 30 seconds once a farmer drives into a field and re-inflated when entering a road, which is much faster than other systems on the market today.

This increases the footprint of a heavy piece of farm equipment, like a manure tanker, by about 60 per cent and keeps it from sinking into the ground.

Overall, deflating tires lowers fuel consumption, increases crop yields by easing soil compaction, and reduces tire wear.

Farmers can get into their fields earlier if their equipment is able to float over the soil more instead of sinking into wet ground. Farm equipment is easier to pull in a field when tires are deflated; this saves about 15 per cent on fuel costs, according to Kraayenbrink.

Kraayenbrink was a recipient of the Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence in 2011 for his innovation.

A video posted on provides more in-depth information about the AgriBrink system and how it works:

Published in Farm Business

Many in the poultry industry know of “Mike the Chicken Vet” and some have had the good fortune to work with him.  As a practical scientist blessed with the ability to communicate, Mike Petrik is special. And his commitment to all things poultry makes him even more so.

A 1998 Ontario Veterinary College grad, Mike has made laying hens his specialty. As Director of Technical Services for McKinley Hatchery he has used his expertise and experience to advance the poultry industry for nearly 15 years. And his natural ability to explain technical details and controversial issues in an engaging and credible way has gained him a loyal following among the chicken-keeping public.

Mike has acted as a poultry industry spokesman, advocate, technical expert, and mentor and now he will be running a new animal care initiative launched by Farm and Food Care. We wanted to catch up with him to find out why he does what he does and how he sees his efforts as helping Canada’s  farmers.  

Mike says he chose to specialize in laying hens because he comes from a mixed poultry farm and that is his comfort zone of familiarity. As well, he adds, thanks to the investment made by the sector there is much less guesswork in working with poultry than in other sectors so there is greater chance to make a difference.   “Because there has been so much research done on poultry,” he explains “there is so much more known about them. So when you are doing treatments or investigating problems there is a lot more detail to rely on and a lot more finesse that can be used.”  

His interest in poultry welfare goes back to his days as a vet student and is an area he has worked in over the years even without the credentials. Having served on the scientific committees for both the Poultry-Layer Code of Practice and the Code for Chickens, Turkeys and Breeders as well as becoming the unofficial welfare lead for the Ontario Association of Poultry Practitioners; he has also worked with the Poultry Industry Council and Egg Farmers of Ontario in what he describes as a “fascinating” line of work.  “So I finally decided to go back and get a formal education in it and get some credentials behind my name.” In 2013, he graduated from the University of Guelph with a Master’s degree in animal welfare. Now, in addition to serving on the Layer Code of Practice implementation committee, he is embarking on leading a new and unique program designed for farm animals.

“It’s pretty exciting, it’s different than anything else I’ve ever worked on,” he says in describing this new initiative. Still in its conception stage, Mike explains that the idea of the program is to improve animal welfare on the farm, and that the target audience is going to be the animals.  Philosophically, he says, the vision is very much similar to the Environmental Farm Plan; one that provides farmers with information and ideas they can take back and apply on their own farms.  “I see the program as being very practical, very hands-on and that will have immediate results for the animals,” he says.

Once it is launched in late 2014 or early 2015, the IMPACT Program, which stands for Innovative Methods and Practical Animal Care Training Program, will be available for all commodities not just poultry and will also extend to allied farm sectors such as auction barns and truckers.

But Mike is quick to point out that it will not replace existing programs already in place for the different segments of the industry. It is an extension program to be delivered by industry members, he explains.   “And it will not be a certification or auditing program,” he adds, although it will compliment such existing programs by incorporating the best practices contained in these programs and that are already out there.   He also says that it will not use a “one size fits all” approach but rather the program will be tailored to the different needs and abilities of the different livestock and poultry sectors and even down to the individual types of farming operations.  Although the program will be created with the input and involvement of a cross representation of stakeholders, it is about the animals.  “I am much more interested in having this program improve the welfare of the animals than improve the appearance of the welfare of the animals,” he says.

Development of the program is being funded under the federal government’s Growing Forward 2 program and through the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food because, as Mike explains, animal welfare is a top issue throughout the food supply chain.  “Animal welfare is the number one pressure,” he believes, “and the number one change that is happening is an awareness of and an adaption to animal welfare practices,” he says.  

“Now every farmer is talking and thinking about animal welfare, every supplier is wanting to prove that they have good animal welfare programs and every purchaser is wanting to purchase their products from an ethical production source.” He says that because everyone has this front of mind, “we need to keep doing the best we can so we can keep our customers satisfied that we are doing the best job we know how to do.”

Mike is also gaining world recognition through his blog “Mike the Poultry Vet.” Begun in 2011 at the suggestion of Egg Farmers of Ontario, the blog celebrated its 100,000th view this past spring.  

According to Mike the idea came about through his work with EFO around municipal bylaws on backyard flocks and the realization that both city people and rural people know little or nothing about where their eggs come from. The blog was created as a public outreach to those who raise backyard flocks and don’t have the knowledge to take proper care of their flocks but it also serves as an education tool for learning about modern agriculture and modern chickens.  Using his hockey playing nickname, the blog is specific to laying hens and egg production although Mike believes it is a model that can be applied to any type of food production. “The blog reaches people who will never read a poultry publication and will never see the inside of a modern poultry barn but who are very interested in egg production,” he says.      

And his expertise and advice is getting worldwide attention. As Mike tells it he gets some “very interesting” enquiries. One included a Huffington Post reporter who found Mike the Poultry Vet on the Internet and contacted him to verify that a case of a California lady who paid $2,800 for surgery on her hen was not a hoax.  He was able to confirm the medical condition really does exist but also used the opportunity to explain that most backyard flock owners and certainly all commercial farms would not invest that sum of money to perform a very high risk surgery for a very rare condition. To the best of his knowledge the hen survived the surgery and his explanation of why this would never happen in the food producing world made it into the news report.

These kinds of cases are something that vets are facing more and more these days so his advice to future poultry vets is to begin with hands-on experience: “If you want to work in the poultry industry in Canada, I think it would be more important to work on a chicken farm than it is to work for a chicken vet.”  It is his opinion that having the insight into the day-to-day operations of a barn and what the pressures are on the farmer, the things that are driving the decisions on the farm and the way things are actually done is a huge advantage in a poultry practice. “Having grown up on a poultry farm I understand why things are done the way they are, so if I am going to make a recommendation on some kind of change on the farm I can factor in the practicality of making a change.”  

The most significant change that Mike has seen since a youth growing up on his family farm is the growing number of balls that farmers need to juggle these days in making basic decisions. “Today’s decisions are much longer term and broader and not just about what makes economic sense anymore,” he says. Farmers have to factor in many more considerations in operating their businesses. “For instance, now farmers building a new barn have to take into account not only production issues such as feed conversions and return on investment but also environmental issues, welfare issues, antibiotic-residue issues, and public relations issues,” he says.

He also doesn’t hold ill feelings towards the opinions held by some of today’s public. He suggests that “the biggest problem we face right now with criticisms from the public has to do with public ignorance about how we farm and the things that we do.”  It is his opinion that industry critics are generally good people with good intentions even if they are impractical or misplaced in the real world, adding, “the fact that activists are ignorant about food production doesn’t make them bad it just makes them wrong.”

He argues that the industry is mostly to blame: “we haven’t explained our end of the chain very well and we don’t let people know what it is that we do.” It has been his experience that when you take people through a barn and tell them what you are doing and why, they are comfortable with it.  “The way we raise animals here in Ontario is very justifiable and very acceptable to people—once they understand. I think that will be the big challenge for the next 10 to 20 year; explaining that we do things for very good reasons and that the animals’ wellbeing is always first and foremost in our minds.”    

Mike also firmly believes that consumers need to know the implications and the real consequences of their choices.  

“Cages or sow stalls, for example, were developed for good animal welfare reasons and it is important that consumers understand the implications for the things they ask for.” He believes that most people who want cages and pens removed from today’s food production systems have no idea what that really means for the animals.  Recognizing that farmers will produce whatever the consumer demands, he cautions that “we need to make sure that we don’t give customers something that will be detrimental to the animals.”     

Mike says he is in an enviable position. He says he wouldn’t be able to do what he does if it weren’t for the backing he gets from McKinley’s. “Without their support and generosity I wouldn’t be able to do all these side projects.”  It is all in keeping with the company’s progressive and forward thinking attitude, according to Mike. “Whether through their active contributions to organizations such as CPEPC and the Hatcheries Association or allowing me to make my own contributions, it is all because these things help the egg industry.”

Published in Producers

À 35 ans, Pierre-Luc Leblanc est le plus jeune président de l’histoire des Éleveurs de volaille du Québec (ÉVQ). Son âge, il s’en formalise peu. Si on l’a choisi, c’est parce que son syndicat avait besoin d’un leader dynamique et persuasif. Un an après son arrivée en poste, il a encore l’impression d’être la bonne personne pour la tâche.

« Si les membres sont satisfaits de mon travail, je serai là longtemps. S’ils apprécient moins, ce sera plus court », dit-il.

Producteur à La Présentation, tout près de Saint-Hyacinthe, Pierre-Luc Leblanc n’avait pas planifié son accession à la présidence des ÉVQ. Il avait siégé au comité dindon, mais jamais au conseil d’administration. Quand on l’a approché pour occuper la présidence, il a été surpris. Puis il a compris : pour que son syndicat mène à terme certains dossiers très importants, son esprit rassembleur pouvait être très utile.

Son engagement en agriculture n’est pas nouveau. Il a été délégué dans des coopératives locales, il siège au comité dindon des ÉVQ depuis quatre ans et il est conseiller municipal à La Présentation. Il fait aussi partie d’un sous-comité sur l’agriculture à la Ville de Saint-Hyacinthe.   

Né sur une ferme de grandes cultures, Pierre-Luc Leblanc a toujours su qu’il voulait vivre d’agriculture. « À l’école, tout le monde se posait des questions sur son avenir. Moi, mon chemin était tracé. Je me trouvais privilégié que mes parents aient une ferme. »

Diplôme d’études collégiales de l’ITA de Saint-Hyacinthe en poche, il se lance en production de volaille. Ses parents, Laurent Leblanc et Pierrette Gaudette, l’aident à devenir propriétaire d’un premier élevage de dindons. Son frère Laurent recevra aussi de l’aide financière pour acquérir un premier poulailler.

Laurent Leblanc souhaitait que ses fils aient chacun leur entreprise. À ce jour, son épouse et lui possèdent encore toutes les terres en grandes cultures. Pierre-Luc et son frère aîné Jocelyn ont chacun quelques poulaillers, mais ils ont rapidement compris que la croissance serait plus facile en s’unissant. « Une grosse ferme et son quota étaient à vendre, raconte Pierre-Luc. Je n’étais pas capable de l’acheter seul et mon frère non plus. Nous l’avons achetée ensemble. Depuis 2004, nous faisons toutes les acquisitions ensemble. »

Ainsi est né le Groupe Aquino. Une quarantaine d’employés se partagent les tâches aux champs et sur des sites de production de poulet à griller, de dindon, de poulettes et d’oeufs d’incubation, répartis dans la grande région de Saint-Hyacinthe.

« C’est la volaille qui me passionne, dit Pierre-Luc. J’ai toujours aimé les animaux. » Son frère Jocelyn a un penchant naturel pour les grandes cultures. Depuis quelques années, leur sœur Marylène fait aussi partie du Groupe Aquino. Même si le tiers des sites de production avicole sont en propriété individuelle, c’est le Groupe Aquino qui réalise tous les achats, gère les ressources humaines et assure le volet administratif.

Dossiers chauds
À la tête des ÉVQ, Pierre-Luc Leblanc a d’abord voulu confirmer les valeurs fondamentales du syndicat, afin que tous puissent ensuite s’entendre sur des stratégies qui correspondent à des objectifs qui font l’unanimité.

La valeur numéro un est la continuité de la ferme familiale. Suivent l’efficacité et la qualité de la production, le respect et l’équité entre membres, sans oublier le bien-être animal.

Le dossier qui accapare le plus les ÉVQ ces dernières années est la demande de création d’une agence centralisée de vente de quota et la fixation du prix du quota. La Régie des marchés agricoles et alimentaires du Québec a demandé aux ÉVQ de revoir les dispositions de l’agence proposée et de présenter une nouvelle demande d’ici le 1er novembre.

« Nous sommes en train d’analyser la décision de la Régie, explique Pierre-Luc Leblanc. Elle reconnaît que nos objectifs sont les bons, mais les moyens sont à améliorer. »

Le président des ÉVQ se dit préoccupé par le prix actuel du quota, qui ne permettrait plus à de jeunes producteurs d’en acquérir en espérant le rentabiliser. Il s’inquiète aussi de la perception du public, qui pourrait croire que le prix élevé du quota se reflète dans le prix du poulet, alors que techniquement, il ne fait pas partie du calcul du coût de production.

« Nous voulons stabiliser la valeur des quotas et que tous aient une chance égale d’en acquérir. Avec une agence de vente, tout le monde pourra démarrer un élevage. » L’agence de vente et la fixation du prix du quota doivent à la fois permettre à la relève d’accéder à la production et aux entreprises existantes de continuer à croître, insiste le président.

Depuis quatre ans, il y a un moratoire sur les transactions de quota de production de poulet au Québec. Le prix fixe évoqué serait de 900 $ le mètre, mais Pierre-Luc Leblanc reconnaît qu’il reste encore beaucoup d’interrogations sur la méthode à employer pour justifier ce prix.

Les ÉVQ sont aussi à revoir leur programme d’aide à la relève. L’attribution de quota doit véritablement servir à intégrer la relève qui travaillera à temps plein à la ferme, insiste le président, en allusion à des cas où la relève qui a bénéficié du programme actuel occupe un emploi à temps plein à l’extérieur.

Efficacité et gestion de l’offre
À l’échelle nationale, Pierre-Luc Leblanc entend travailler avec les autres provinces pour régler la question de la croissance différentielle. L’allocation de la croissance ne doit pas se faire en tenant compte seulement de la croissance de la population, croit-il. On doit aussi considérer l’efficacité de la production et de la transformation.

La défense de la gestion de l’offre demeure d’actualité. L’entente avec l’Union européenne qui ouvre le marché des fromages fins fait craindre aux ÉVQ qu’une partie de leurs acquis s’envolent pour favoriser la conclusion d’autres ententes bilatérales.

« Nous voulons être proches du gouvernement, pour qu’il réalise l’impact s’il change quelque chose. Les éleveurs de volaille paient 1,8 milliard $ seulement en impôts et notre production n’est pas subventionnée », fait valoir le président des ÉVQ.

Des pays comme les États-Unis, le Brésil où la Chine n’ont pas les mêmes exigences sanitaires et environnementales que le Canada, rappelle Pierre-Luc Leblanc. « La gestion de l’offre, c’est aussi ça : un moyen de produire efficacement en respectant des normes de salubrité élevées. Il y a un coût à ça, mais je pense que c’est ce que les Canadiens veulent. »

Published in Producers

There are not many Canadian poultry farms that can boast of being a ninth-generation family farm. However, Cornwallis Farms Ltd. in Port Williams, Nova Scotia, has that distinction.

Cornwallis Farms Ltd., owned by Geneve and Craig Newcombe, in partnership with Craig’s brother Brian, is located on part of an original land grant given to the family more than 250 years ago.

In 1761, the Newcombs (now spelled Newcombe), New England Planters, migrated to the Annapolis Valley to farm the fertile lands cleared by the 1755 British expulsion of the Acadians. Deacon John Newcomb received a land grant in the region known as Cornwallis, and he and his two sons, Eddy and John Jr., began farming in what is now known as Port Williams.

Geneve and Craig have three children who will now make it a 10th-generation family farm.

Their eldest son, Robert, 24, is a Nova Scotia Agricultural College and Dalhousie University graduate, who is employed as an industrial engineer with the Barrington Consulting Group in Halifax.

He is also enrolled in an MBA program at St. Mary’s University, and although not on the farm, he lends his engineering expertise to it when needed.

The Newcombes’ second son, David, 22, graduated this spring from St. Mary’s University with a B. Comm. (cum laude) and has returned to the farm, making him the 10th generation. Geneve reports: “he is excited about the future and his education in business will be an asset to the farm.”

Their daughter, Kathleen, 18, graduated from high school in June, and this September she will attend Acadia University in its Bachelor of Kinesiology program. She wants to be a sports therapist or physiotherapist. Back on the farm, she collects eggs on weekends.

Cornwallis Farms’ present egg quota is for 21,000 layers. The Newcombes also produce 1.6 million kilograms of broiler chickens annually and operate a dairy herd of 65 pure bred Holsteins with a 84-kilogram fluid milk quota.

They grow corn, wheat, soybeans and forages for their dairy herd and “we are currently experimenting with Fava beans in order to reduce the amount of off-farm protein sources we use,” says Geneve.

They run an on-farm feed mill that is producing TMR for dairy, layer and broiler feeds, making approximately 3,500 tonnes per year. “We also have an on-farm extruder which allows us to process our own soybeans,” she says.

The Newcombes also have an environmental farm plan, instituted in 2003, and a nutrient management plan (NMP) completed in 2006. Geneve states: “We feel that we have been able to reduce our farm’s environmental footprint in a number of areas.”

They accomplished this, she adds, through the use of no till, crop rotation, cover crops, plus the NMP which enables them to use only the required inputs on the soil by weighing all their manure, thereby managing nutrient inputs to match the needs of the crop being grown.

They also fenced all their streams to keep out cattle and created wetlands with cattails to treat wastewater. As well, the Newcombes bought a plate cooler to recapture heat from milk and wash water, plus converted their farm to LED lighting to reduce power consumption, along with the weigh scales and grain dryer extruder.

Moreover, they have adopted a GPS for their cropping practices. “We are always looking to our efficiency,” says Geneve.

“We do not have an official, documented, farm business plan; but we are always meeting as a family to discuss our goals and objectives.”

Their current priorities are the transition of the farm to a 10th generation and increasing its self-sufficiency through expanding its land base through land purchase.

The Newcombes have seven full-time employees, aside from the family: two work primarily with the dairy herd, three mainly with the broilers, and one each with the layers and with the on-farm mechanical services.

For managerial responsibilities, Craig oversees the broilers, layers and feed mill, while Brian manages the dairy herd and cropping. Says Geneve, “I look after the farm financials and the record keeping for the layers and broilers. I have also developed an employee manual along with standard operating procedures for the farm, and I am currently working on farm safety.”

In the larger farm community, Craig is a director on the boards of Chicken Farmers of Nova Scotia, the Atlantic Poultry Research Institute and Atlantic Poultry Inc.

Geneve is chair and a director of the Nova Scotia Egg Producers (NSEP), co-chair of the Nova Scotia Agriculture Awareness Committee, a representative of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture’s Council of Leaders and treasurer of the Kings County 4H, and the Chipman’s Corner Cemetery.

Their second son, Dave, will co-chair Nova Scotia Eggs’ Run for the Cure Team this fall.

Geneve admits she now has, “a new level of time commitment,” but, she contends, the new demands on her time are fairly easy to accommodate, “as I spend a great deal of time in the farm office, so I can easily answer calls and respond to emails.”

She comments: “I was always a very involved mother; so, as my children have gone out on their own, it has freed up my time to take on this new role.”

She feels fortunate to have an experienced, dedicated NSEP staff “as well as a very knowledgeable and committed board, so there is a great deal of support and experience to draw from.”

Geneve says the NSEP directors have a strategic plan for direction. “As a board we were very pleased to announce a New Entrants program this year and feel it is a strength of our industry and shows how supply management can, and has evolved over the years to, encourage new entrants to our industry.”

This past year, following the example of the Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC), she says the NSEP has found opportunities to engage and train young farmers. “I am quite excited with the results. We have a wonderful resource in our youth and we gain as much as they do from these opportunities.”

She attends EFC’s national meetings as an alternate delegate representing the NSEP. “Our Nova Scotia board has made a practice of electing the Chair as the EFC alternate so they can stay abreast of national issues.”

Asked how safe and secure she feels supply management is, she replied: “Our provincial and federal governments have both publicly stated that they support supply management. Supply management is a system that has proven itself and the number of young people choosing to farm in supply-managed commodities demonstrates that the system still works.

“It is not a system that we should take for granted. So, as farmers, we must continue to voice our support for our system and educate others.”

Geneve has also provided active leadership in local amateur athletics as President of the Valley Girl’s High School Hockey League, Vice-President of the South Conference Female Hockey Federation, a director of East Kings Soccer and a manager of a number of sports teams.

Similarly, this past year, Craig coached both high-school girls’ hockey and soccer and is currently coaching East Kings Under 18 girls’ soccer. He is also a Commissioner for the Village of Port Williams.

Daughter Kathleen has also been very active in amateur athletics, taking part in soccer, rugby, hockey, wrestling and cross-country running.  For the past two seasons she has also been a volunteer coach with the Acadia sledge hockey team.

Eldest son Robert, this past winter, coached the Atom A Halifax Hawks hockey team, which won the provincial championship. He also plays Senior Men’s soccer, as does his brother, David.

For her own recreation Geneve likes to swim, sew, quilt, do fine needle arts, and she keeps a scrapbook on the history of the farm “as well as ongoing initiatives and events.”

Published in Producers

Nine years ago, the B.C. Egg Marketing Board (BCEMB) introduced its Producer of the Year Award recognizing B.C. egg producers who excel in food safety and animal care practices.

To earn the award, producers must score a minimum of 95 per cent on both the Egg Farmers of Canada “Start Clean-Stay Clean” (layers) program and the Egg Farmer’s of Canada (EFC) Animal Care Program and successfully complete a SC-SC (Part 3) audit. It is a testament to the increasing attention B.C. producers pay to food safety and animal welfare that 95 of B.C.’s 133 registered egg producers (71 per cent) qualified to be Producers of the Year in 2013.

But that was not always the case. When it was introduced in 2006, only one producer earned the award: James Gunther of Jake’s Poultry Farm in Abbotsford. Now 47, the second-generation egg producer has been farming for 27 years.

“I bought a 6,000 bird quota when I was 20 and leased a barn from my Dad,” Gunther recalls. To help make ends meet during the early stages of the operation, he also drove a grain truck for 13 years.

About 15 years ago, he was looking for a new home for his birds, and/or a new opportunity, when the property he is now based on became available.

“I had looked at it earlier, but at that time it was out of my price range.”

He was mulling it over when his Dad gave him an ultimatum. “Dad told me I had the weekend to decide and if I passed on the farm, he would buy it on Monday.”

Gunther took the plunge, transferring his original quota to his parents and taking over the 16,000-bird quota that came with the new farm.

“A year later my Dad passed away from cancer, and I amalgamated the two quotas (which with industry growth was now total about 50,000 birds) under my Dad’s existing farm name and started building here.”

What he built was a pullet-rearing barn, a large layer barn divided down the centre and two smaller layer barns. Gunther always has two flocks in production, spaced seven months apart. Half of each flock is in the large barn and the other half in one of the smaller barns.

It appears that by becoming B.C.’s first Producer of the Year, Gunther foresaw the direction the industry was heading in, but that is not the case. “I’ve never farmed thinking ‘this is the future.’ I just do what I think is the right thing.”

He credits then EFC auditor Liam Keanne for encouraging him to pursue the award.

“He constantly asked me to do the audit. He suggested I might get more for the eggs but I didn’t believe it and it didn’t happen,” he says. “I didn’t look at it as leading the way. I thought it was a challenge. It’s more about the self-satisfaction.”

So how does Gunther achieve the award year after year? Through very systematic, organized record-keeping and thorough barn cleaning between each batch.

“We’ve always kept records but we’re always upgrading to better charts and better spreadsheets,” he says, admitting “I’m a bit of a tech kind of guy.”

His daily production records allow him to spot and address problems very quickly. Housing each flock in two barns also allows him to determine whether those problems are barn- or equipment-related or due to feed.

Gunther firmly believes every producer should be on the SC-SC and animal care program, saying “I’m surprised it isn’t already a mandatory program. When retailers come ask about animal welfare, I want to confidently say to them this is what I do and why I do it.”

Despite that, and although he has been a Producer of the Year for each of the past nine years, Gunther is not sure how long or even if that will continue.

“The bar is now being raised so high it’s almost become unattainable.”

When he built his barns 11 years ago, his cages met the standard of 64 square inches/bird. Almost the day after they were built, the standard was increased to 67 square inches. Now the BCEMB has raised the standard to 80 square/inches with no grandfathering of existing barns.

Although Gunther has the room to go to 80 square inches for his existing quota holding, B.C. producers are about to get a quota increase and he does not have space for both. “I will need a whole new 10,000-bird barn.”

He questions the merits of the new standard, claiming there is no scientific basis for it. He cites research that showed birds performed more poorly with 80 square inches than with 64.

“The barns were colder because it is harder to maintain temperature.”

He believes the new standard has put the industry “in chaos” as producers, including him, wrestle with what to do.

“That’s a real tough issue. I question the enriched cage — it’s still a cage,” he says, asking “how can you get a loan to put in equipment when you don’t know how long you can have it?

If we just let special interest groups control us, we’re in big trouble.”

He recalls how impressed the public was when hens were first housed in cages.

“What happened to the people who thought it was awesome?”

Published in Producers

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