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.

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.

 

Celebrate agriculture in Alberta with Open Farm Days 2015!

Is anything better than spending a beautiful summer day in the country, enjoying the best that Alberta farms have to offer?

On August 22 and 23, thousands of Albertans did just that. During the third annual Alberta Open Farm Days, Albertans experienced farming up-close and personal, and learned about the farmers who grow their food. Visitors were encouraged to explore rural farms, watch demonstrations about how farms operate and/or attend an amazing array of culinary events across the province.

With over 70 farm locations, there was plenty to see and discover. This included alpaca fibre demonstrations, meat shop tours, winery tours and tastings, u-pick berry operations, garden tours and mazes, beekeeper tours, livestock experiences, farm machinery displays, dairy tours and tastings and much, much more.

AFA 2nd Vice President Humphrey Banack and his wife, Terry, participated again this year. They are owners of a 109-year-old family homestead and grow 5,000 acres of grains and oilseeds near Round Hill, Alberta, close to Camrose. On August 23, they had their harvest equipment on display, and treated visitors to a ride on a combine while harvesting peas.

“We love Open Farm Days,” says Banack. “This is one of the best ways to connect urban folks with their rural neighbours. Not only is it fun for us to show off how our farm operates, but it’s such a great way to educate people about how food is produced right here in Alberta. People who visited today got to take home a bag of peas to use in their cooking. It’s that farm-to-fork experience we all talk about.”

Alberta Open Farm Days is a collaborative effort between the Alberta Government, Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies, Travel Alberta and the Ag for Life initiative.

On Saturday August 22, 2015, talented Alberta chefs teamed up with farmers and rural communities to offer culinary events like long table dinners, corn roasts, barbeques, county fairs and other special events throughout the province. Tickets and reservations were required for events scheduled on Saturday. More information, and a list of events, can be found on the ‘Culinary Experiences’ section of the Alberta Open Farm Days website here.

On Sunday August 23, 2015, more than 70 Alberta producers opened their farm gates to offer a first-hand look at the important contribution agriculture makes to our province. Admission was free on Sunday, and a list of participating farms can be found here.

Here are a few photos from the Open Farm Days event on Sunday, August 23, 2015 at the Banack homestead in Round Hill, Alberta.

AFA-Open Farm Days Banack Farm 2015

The Open Farm Days sign welcomes visitors to the Banack farm near Round Hill, Alberta.

AFA-Humphrey Banack

Humphrey Banack feels Alberta’s annual Open Farm Days is an important way to connect producers with their rural and urban neighbors.

AFA-Banack Open Farm Days Tent

Open Farm Days visitors learn about, and see, the grains grown on the Banack farm.

AFA-Terry Banack on Open Farm Days

Terry Banack shows visitors the canola plant and its seeds. She also displayed products made from canola.

AFA-Banack Open Farm Days

Terry Banack brings two boys from the city inside their farm equipment.

AFA-Humphrey Banack Combine

An Edmonton family gets a ride in the Banack combine.

AFA-Humphrey Banack Combine

Visitors to the Banack farm during Open Farm Days got to ride with Humphrey Banack and harvest peas.

AFA-Humphrey Banack Peas

Families riding with Banack in the combine got a just-harvested bag of peas to take home.

Visit the Alberta Open Farm Days website at www.albertafarmdays.com to also see videos from this and past years, photos and a wide range of information on this great farm event.

For our farm readers: if you are interested in becoming a host farm in 2016, or holding a culinary event, the application deadline for the 2016 Open Farm Days is June 30, 2016.