AFA Summer Meeting keeps finger on pulse of agriculture issues

The Alberta Federation of Agriculture (AFA) Board met in mid-June for their annual Summer Meeting, and were pleased to host a number of guests from key industries that are connected to agriculture.

Three groups presented on a wide range of issues that have the potential to significantly impact Alberta’s agriculture industry. AFA provided input and ideas.

Alberta Utilities Consumer Advocate

Established in October 2003, the Office of the Utilities Consumer Advocate (UCA) has a mandate to educate, advocate, and mediate for Alberta’s residential, farm, and small business electricity and natural gas consumers.

Since agriculture businesses can be greatly impacted by utility rates – especially large users like producers with hog barns, food processors or greenhouses – a UCA representative shared an overview and answered questions about Alberta’s Electricity Regulatory System.

New Agricultural Policy Framework

Alberta producers may be familiar with the Growing Forward 2 (GF2) programs that are part of a federal-provincial-territorial (FPT) partnership. These programs seek to help the agriculture and food industry reach its full potential by focusing on productivity, profitability and competitiveness in a global market.

The current program expires March 31, 2018, and federal and provincial policymakers are now gathering producer input on the future of the next agricultural policy framework (APF). Read more about this on our recent blog (link May AFA blog).

Representatives from Alberta Agriculture and Forestry met with the AFA Board at our Summer Meeting to discuss the impacts of potential refinements and opportunities for Alberta farmers in the new policy.

“AFA’s mandate of advocating on behalf of Alberta farmers and ranchers means AFA directors are integrally involved in policy development and feedback,” says Rick McConnell, AFA Interim Executive Director. “Helping to shape the next stage of the APF is just one example where AFA directors share their expertise to move agricultural policy development forward.”

Alberta’s Crop Insurance Programs

As changes and updates to crop insurance programs occur in Alberta, AFA is involved in consultations with Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC) to provide the perspective of Alberta’s crop and pasture producers.

During this session, AFA provided feedback on crop damage compensation for wildlife and vandalism, on-farm best management practices, refinements to coverage and premium assessment, advancing electronic interaction between AFSC and their clients as well as the potential to expand use of weather-based products.

AFA’s Board and Directors will continue to be proactive with these types of discussions and ensure that agriculture’s voice is heard loud and clear.

Calling agriculture students: apply for the AFA scholarship today!

AFA is proud to help students who are using their talents to further their studies in agriculture with our annual scholarship. We’d love to add your name to the list!

Each year, the AFA Scholarship awards $500 for one student to use towards studies in a post-secondary agriculture or related program. The deadline to apply for this year’s scholarship is August 1, 2016. The scholarship is awarded each November.

To be eligible for the AFA scholarship, an applicant must be:

  • a Canadian Citizen or permanent resident of Canada, and an Alberta resident
  • attending a designated post-secondary institution in Alberta
  • enrolled full-time in the second or subsequent year of post-secondary study in a program related to the field of agriculture.

Applications are available online, but students can also call Student Aid Alberta Service Centre at 1-855-606-2096 for more information.

Students don’t have to be an AFA member to apply for the scholarship, but it helps since preference is given to applications submitted by AFA producer members, their children and their grandchildren. This is just one benefit to being an AFA producer member.

Congratulations to recent AFA scholarship winners!

Here is a brief overview on AFA’s last two scholarship winners. We are proud to help these students with their education!

  • Wilson Leung of Edmonton, Alberta was the 2015 recipient of our annual AFA scholarship. Wilson completed his degree in Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Alberta, and is now pursuing a degree in Environmental Health at Concordia University of Edmonton. Wilson is studying strategies related to agriculture including food safety inspection, risk assessment and environmental management.
  • The 2014 scholarship was awarded to Nadine Jensen of Claresholm, Alberta, then in her third-year pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Biotechnology at the University of Lethbridge.

Want to give a hand to the next generation in agriculture?

Tax-deductible donations are welcome and encouraged! AFA welcomes contributions from any business, group or individual to help keep the AFA Scholarship fund sustainable for years to come.

For more information, or to donate in the name of the AFA Scholarship, call the Alberta Scholarships Program at 780-427-8640. As we mentioned earlier, donations are tax deductible.

Shedding light on the new farm labour and safety regulations

AFA-David Myrol

David Myrol, a partner at McLennan Ross LLP, speaks to AGM delegates about farm labour and safety laws.

At the Alberta Federation of Agriculture (AFA) Annual General Meeting in January, guest speaker David Myrol, a lawyer and partner with McLennan Ross LLP, shared his expertise on Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) law.

Myrol is a nationally-recognized expert practicing almost exclusively in OHS law and is involved with many of the leading OHS cases in Alberta. His take on the new Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act that came into force on January 1, 2016: it’s complicated.

“The devil is in the details,” Myrol said at the AFA AGM on January 21. “There are lots of grey areas, the legislation is not drafted clearly, and specific regulations will be passed in the future.”

Myrol sought to bring clarification to the producers in the room by sharing an overview of OHS. He also shared insight into what he has seen in Alberta during his time as OHS Crown Prosecutor.

“From my point of view, this legislation was inevitable,” he said. “OHS legislation was needed to protect workers employed by food producers who own large operations. I believe that the intent of the legislation is aimed more at that category of employer than the small family farm.”

Myrol explained that the OHS Act is an enforcement tool that is meant to “ensure the health and safety of workers as far as reasonably practicable”. The Act, Myrol explained, is administered by Alberta’s Ministry of Labour and gives broad powers to OHS Officers who can:

  • enter work sites
  • inspect and investigate work sites
  • seize and sample
  • compel statements

Officers can issue stop work orders, write tickets, issue administrative penalties, and impose fines and jail as a result of commencing a formal prosecution. Myrol says that the case law for the most part presumes guilt, and therefore it is the responsibility of those charged to prove due diligence. In Alberta, from 2004 to 2014, there have been between seven and twenty-two prosecutions per year, with penalties between $2,000 and $1.5 million.

Delegates at the AFA AGM were reminded by Myrol that the OHS Act is just one of the acts that the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act amended. The other legislation includes the Employment Standards Code, the Labour Relations Code and Workers’ Compensation Regulation.

Myrol said that much of the confusion occurred because the changes affected so many different areas. “To be fair to the government, these are tough areas to come up with language that gives absolute clarity for producers,” he said.

So what does this all mean for producers? In wrapping up, Myrol offered this advice: producers should answer the government’s call for input on how the changes are implemented. He strongly encouraged farmers and ranchers to get involved with the government consultation process and/or give feedback to the government directly or through industry and safety associations.

The Alberta government recently announced they are establishing six discussion roundtables to work with the agriculture community and other stakeholders in developing regulations in this area. More information can be found on the Alberta Agriculture and Forestry website.

AFA’s Annual General Meeting explores the rapidly changing face of agriculture

Agriculture’s evolving landscape means that farm producers and ranchers need to be flexible and quick on their feet to manage change on the farm.

That’s why Alberta Federation of Agriculture (AFA) chose the theme Shifting Gears for their recent Annual General Meeting. Over two days in Red Deer, January 21 and 22, 2016, attendees at the AFA AGM heard about dynamic farm technology, climate change, production updates and the impact of Alberta’s farm safety legislation.

“Agriculture producers are accustomed to change and are very adept at shifting gears,” says AFA President Lynn Jacobson, who farms near Enchant. “This meeting gave our members a chance to see what’s on the horizon and offered innovative ways to meet those challenges.”

A series of expert speakers explored the issue of shifting gears from many angles:AFA-Rick McConnellRick McConnell from DYMAC Risk Management Solutions discussed new ways of assessing pasture production

AFA-Dr ErlerScientist Dr. Andre Erler with Aquanty Inc. presented observations on climate research in Western Canada

AFA-Shaun HaneyShaun Haney of RealAgriculture shared his insights into the digital age of farming by showcasing new farm technology like driverless tractors

AFA-David MyrolDavid Myrol with McLennan Ross LLP, an expert in Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) law, explored the legal questions and facts surrounding Alberta’s farm labour legislation

AFA-Garth PattersonGarth Patterson with Western Grains Research Foundation spoke about agronomic capacity and funding for varietal research

AFA-Daryl BennettDaryl Bennett with Action Surface Rights looked at surface rental and the issue of abandoned wells on farms resulting from the downturn in the oil and gas industry

AFA-Markus WeberMarkus Weber with AgEagle featured drone technology and how it can be used for better profitability on the farm

AFA-Minister CarlierA highlight of the meeting was a provincial update provided by Alberta’s Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Hon. Oneil Carlier. Members had a chance to ask questions following the presentation, and discussions centered around actions for moving forward with the provincial farm safety and labour legislation.

AFA-Minister Carlier & QestionsMinister Carlier told the AFA delegates that the government is now focused on getting input on the legislation, adding, “We will take the time necessary to get this right.” He also thanked those in the room for their passion for the agriculture industry and the significant contribution farm producers make to the provincial economy.

In addition to speaker presentations on a wide variety of topics, the AGM is a time for AFA members to propose, debate and vote on resolutions dealing with issues that affect Alberta farm producers. Resolutions direct key priorities for AFA for the year ahead.

For 2016, AFA will continue its work on rail transportation costs, the development of a farm safety plan, ways to minimize waste in municipal areas, surface rental reimbursement for producers, plans for the Indian Head Shelterbelt Centre, commitment to varietal research and compensation to producers for carbon sequestering and trespasser damage.

Humphrey Banack, AFA’s 2nd Vice President who farms near Camrose, notes that the past year in agriculture put a spotlight on why it’s important for producers to be involved in policy decisions.

“In 2015, farmers saw tremendous change in agriculture and in politics,” says Banack. “I think producers have seen why understanding policy can be just as critical as knowing about production. As Alberta’s general farm organization, one of AFA’s areas of expertise is agricultural policy. We can speak to these issues on behalf of all producers to make sure their voices are heard.”

AFA’s President Jacobson agrees. “AFA deals with concerns that impact all farmers and ranchers in the province, not just issues that are commodity-specific,” he says. “We will be addressing the key concerns raised during this meeting with all levels of government to ensure a stronger agriculture industry for all.”

During the AGM, member-delegates re-confirmed the AFA executive team for another year with Lynn Jacobson as President, Keith Degenhardt as 1st Vice President and Humphrey Banack as 2nd Vice President.

For more information on AFA, visit our website at: www.afaonline.ca.

 

AFA members take their business on the road

We love to give a shout out to our AFA members! Here’s a great story on what can happen when you are willing to look at things in a different light. Congratulations to the Morris family on the new addition to their business!

——————————————————————————————————————

Arnie and Shirley Morris have been successful quail egg producers for the last three decades. From their Ardrossan, Alberta farm, they supply western Canadian retailers with about 10,000 of these delicate eggs each day.

When the opportunity to sell quail meat arose, they knew ramping up their production would be no problem. Finding a processing facility for the tiny birds was another matter.

Quails raised by the Morris family

Quails raised by the Morris family

“Processing plants don’t really have the equipment to handle small birds,” says Shirley Morris. “We made so many calls, and just couldn’t find a plant to do it. We knew we weren’t the only producers looking for this, and that there was demand for it.”

Where others saw closed doors, the Morris family saw potential. They decided to buy a custom mobile processing plant and became quail processors themselves. Inside the 28-ft. trailer, they can process quails, game birds and chickens plus create packaged meat for consumers.

Inside the Morris family mobile processing plant trailer

Inside the Morris family mobile processing plant trailer

“For other farmers that raise chickens or pheasants, we’ll bring the processor to them,” Shirley says.  “It can also be a way to bring this great-tasting, high-quality meat to chefs and restaurants.”

As Shirley explains, the mobile plant gives them a unique way to take advantage of new markets, like the farm-to-table movement. They can process up to 600 birds a day, plus vacuum-seal the meat and sell it either fresh or frozen.

Fresh Bry-Conn Quail (10 pack)

Fresh Bry-Conn Quail (10 pack)

Growing this side of their farm business has not been all smooth sailing, but Shirley notes they have some terrific support both on and off the farm. Their children are now involved in the processing business.

The Morris family also works closely with provincial meat inspectors to ensure the product meets the highest quality standards plus regulations for food safety, packaging and labelling. Shirley also credits Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA) and Alberta Federation of Agriculture (AFA) staff as being instrumental in helping get this venture off the ground.

“This was a new area for us, so we had a lot of questions,” says Shirley. “AFA staff spent so much time helping us find the information we needed. We are so grateful for everyone’s help. It’s great to see what you can do with just 30 acres.”

The Morris family farm was also recently featured in The Western Producer. Click here to see the story and a video tour of the trailer!

A bountiful celebration of agriculture: the 2015 Harvest Gala

Ag for Life Sheryl

As Alberta farmers and consumers move into the fall season, they have the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the amazing bounty that the land provides. This is exactly the reason that Alberta’s Ag for Life hosts the province’s Harvest Gala celebration each year.

The Harvest Gala brings together the scrumptious tastes of locally-produced foods, the sights and sounds of Alberta artists, a silent auction and a chance to connect with friends in the community market. It’s an opportunity to celebrate Alberta’s agricultural roots through a fusion of urban and rural style and design.

  • The Fourth Annual Harvest Gala
  • Friday, October 23, 2015
  • Calgary, Alberta
  • 6 pm to 11 pm 

Ag for Life is a not-for-profit organization committed to building a greater understanding and appreciation of Alberta’s agricultural industry, and its fundamental connection to life. The Harvest Gala is one way Ag for Life reaches out to Albertans to tell the story of the incredible depth and prospects that agriculture affords in this province. Other Ag for Life success stories include: Classroom Agriculture Program, Little Green Thumbs, Alberta Open Farm Days, City Slickers, Rural and Farm Safety Days and the Rollover Simulator Project.

AFA is proud to have Ag for Life as one of our corporate partners. Our mission for advocacy for Alberta’s farmers, ranchers and producers aligns beautifully with the important message that Ag for Life brings to Albertans. An AFA Board Member attends the Harvest Gala every year.

“As we see an increase in interest from consumers about where their food comes from, events like these are important to connect rural and urban neighbours,” says Sheryl Rae, AFA Executive Director. “The Harvest Gala underlines the importance of sharing the impact that agriculture has on everybody’s lives. We are all stewards of the land.”

Tickets for the Harvest Gala event directly benefit Ag for Life. Tickets are $250 each, with corporate or group tables also available.

Tickets are still available from Ag for Life and can be purchased online: http://agricultureforlife.ca/event/2015-harvest-gala/