From grain transportation to sustainable agriculture. What we’re working on today.

There was no shortage of issues, opportunities and challenges to discuss recently at the half-year mark in our year, and Alberta Federation of Agriculture (AFA) shared these discussions with farmers at our 2018 Summer Meeting.

2018 has been a year of change in agriculture, with some issues continuing to squeeze producers – like grain transportation – and others new on the horizon, like environmental farm plans.

In late-June 2018, AFA Members and others interested in agricultural policy gathered in Camrose, Alberta to participate in discussions about emerging issues that will affect farmers in the coming year. Producer meetings are just one of the ways AFA’s Board stays in touch with what’s important to Alberta farmers.

Transportation and seed

iStock_000019270898medAFA President Lynn Jacobson, who continues to lead the organization in advocating on issues that matter to farmers, says grain transportation is one issue AFA has advocated on for years and is continuing to watch.

“At this point, it doesn’t look like the recent legislation that was passed will put us on equal footing with other industries,” he explains. “The railway still has the ability to ration and prioritize grain shipments. So, that’s an issue we are following very closely as we go forward.”

Another long-time issue for AFA discussed at the Summer Meeting is plant breeders’ rights. It’s a complex issue that has developed from national changes to plant breeders’ rights in 2015. The part of the topic that AFA is looking at is around farm-saved seed and royalty options.

“There doesn’t seem to be consensus in the agriculture community about where to go with it,” notes Jacobson. “We need a lot more discussion with producers if the government is going to change regulations, and the seed sector and commodity groups are going to have to be communicating more about it, too.”

Sustainability in agriculture

During the panel discussion on sustainable agriculture at the AFA Summer Meeting, Jacobson said attendees appreciated learning more about what the marketplace and customers are now demanding from Canadian producers. He says as a result, AFA has become more involved in the process of Environmental Farm Plans (EFP). This is a new area of investigation for AFA, and Jacobson is well positioned in the industry with his board position on a national EFP group.

“As we go down the road of sustainability and consumers and customers want to know what’s in their food and how it has been raised, EFPs are going to be more important,” Jacobson says. “It could get to the point that if you haven’t done an EFP and kept certain records, you may not be able to sell agricultural products to certain segments.”

iStock_000021185812small-crop

What’s on the horizon?

Jacobson will join agricultural groups from across Canada at the Canadian Federation of Agriculture ‘Lobby Day 2018’ in Ottawa on October 30. The purpose of the event is to have representatives from across the country share a unified perspective on Canadian agricultural priorities by meeting with MPs and senators from all parties.

These are just a few of the key areas that the AFA Board and Executive is working on to address concerns and opportunities in the agricultural sector. It’s a mission that requires perseverance and political effort, and one that Jacobson feels passionate about.

“It’s important that the voice of the producer is heard,” says Jacobson. “Bringing the views of Alberta farmers to all levels of government is how change happens.”

If you want to know more about AFA and its activities, or for information on becoming an AFA member or our upcoming annual general meeting, visit our website at www.afaonline.ca.

 

Alberta farmers get chance to have a say about federal-provincial policy

Many Alberta producers will be familiar with the Growing Forward 2 (GF2) programs that are part of a federal-provincial-territorial (FPT) partnership that seeks to help the agriculture and food industry achieve its full potential by focusing on productivity, profitability and competitiveness in Canada’s agricultural industry.

With the GF2 program set to expire on March 31, 2018, Alberta Federation of Agriculture (AFA) directors want to make sure that Alberta farmers, ranchers and food processors are part of the discussion for the new agricultural policy framework (APF) that is developed.

“AFA is working with agricultural stakeholders all across the country to ensure that the unique views and circumstances of Alberta’s farmers and food producers are well represented in any new policy,” says Humphrey Banack, AFA’s 2nd Vice President. “The federal government is asking for feedback online, and since these programs impact many areas of agriculture, I would encourage all producers to take a few minutes to provide their input.”

Banack is referring to the May 9 announcement by federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Lawrence MacAulay asking for stakeholder feedback as they draw up plans for the next APF. The federal government has set up a website with an online questionnaire designed to seek input from producers about where the program is working well and where challenges exist.

Banack is also the 1st Vice President of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), and has been part of a committee formed in 2014 to develop policy recommendations to inform the next APF. The committee tabled recommendations that were adopted at the CFA Annual General Meeting in February 2016. The full report with recommendations can be found on the CFA website.

Introduced in April 2013, GF2 focuses on three priorities for the agricultural sector: innovation, competitiveness, and market development. The programs within GF2 aim to help the industry respond to future opportunities and challenges and to achieve its full potential as a productive and profitable sector of the Canadian economy.

As part of AFA’s mandate of advocating on behalf of Alberta farmers and ranchers, AFA directors are integrally involved in policy development and feedback, through their interactions with national and provincial government representatives and agricultural groups. The Growing Forward programs are just one example where AFA directors share their expertise to move agricultural policy development forward.

“In Alberta, Growing Forward 2 represents a federal-provincial cost-share investment of more than $400 million for risk management, research and development,” says AFA President Lynn Jacobson. “AFA is representing Alberta’s farm and ranch owners at the government level, but it’s important that the policy makers hear directly from producers, too. These are all critical pillars of our industry.”

Summer meetings underway; AFA advocating for Alberta’s farmers

AFA’s Board and Executive have just finished the AFA summer board meeting in Blackfalds, Alberta. It was a chance for our farmer executive to gather together and review progress on AFA’s 2015 priorities and brainstorm about events and opportunities coming up.

As a general farm organization, AFA attends several national and international meetings to give us a fresh perspective from around the world. We then use these insights in advocating for Alberta’s producers, ranchers and agribusinesses.

Here is a look at the summer meeting schedule of one of AFA’s executives, 2nd Vice President Humphrey Banack.

World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) General Assembly 2015

Banack is integrally involved with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) where he has served as their 1st Vice President since February 2011. As a CFA representative, Banack will attend the WFO’s General Assembly on June 24-27 in Milan, Italy.

This year, the WFO assembly will discuss women in agriculture and social licence, two topics of interest in Canada as well. Social licence will be a point of discussion at the upcoming CFA roundtable (see section below); Banack also points to a recent announcement from the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council on new research that examines and addresses barriers to advancement for women in the agricultural industry.

Banack explains that the WFO meetings are a way of connecting with farmers around the world, and says there is always something to learn from these encounters. The event hosts farmers from over 70 countries.

“Travelling to other places and talking with international farmers lets you see that we may speak a different language, but we are all dealing with many of the same things,” Banack says. “Then, when we come back, we can bring this perspective to the work we do for Alberta producers.”

Canadian Federation of Agriculture Board of Directors meeting

AFA President Lynn Jacobson and Humphrey Banack will both attend this upcoming national meeting to be held July 13-15 in Prince Edward Island.

This is a chance for general farm organizations – like AFA and those from other provinces – to gather and discuss issues of importance to Canadian agriculture. On the agenda this year are regional updates, climate change and a roundtable discussion on social licence. Federal and provincial agriculture ministers also attend to be part of these discussions.

This year’s CFA meeting will be a first for Hon. Oneil Carlier, Alberta’s new Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. AFA President Lynn Jacobson will be seated next to the Minister during the roundtable discussion. Jacobson and Banack will have the opportunity of discussing Alberta’s agricultural issues as well as giving the Minister a national perspective.

“We’ll be introducing Mr. Carlier to others from the national team,” notes Banack. “We look forward to this important event when agriculture organizations come together in one room to discuss the issues that will move Canadian agriculture forward.”

Odour Management Guide

Banack is co-chair of the Odour Management Team of Alberta’s Clean Air Strategic Alliance working on creating a best practices guide for assessing and managing odour in Alberta. The guide is due for release in September 2015.

Agriculture is just one of the industries where odour can cause issues with neighbours. The team is looking at ways of assessing, mitigating and managing odour complaints from a wide range of sources – from backyard fire pits to municipal landfills.

“Odour drift is something agriculture producers have to manage, whether it’s a smell from the products we use on our crops or the odour from livestock,” Banack says. “This guide will give those who take the calls a tool to effectively deal with odour complaints.”

These are just some of the activities AFA is working on for Alberta’s agricultural producers and businesses. To find out more, visit our website or YouTube channel.

AFA sees common ground with new government

The election of a majority NDP government on May 5, 2015, was a historic moment for Albertans. While the change in government may introduce some uncertainty in the short term, AFA President Lynn Jacobson sees a solid basis for partnership with the incoming administration.

“We look forward to working with the new government,” says Jacobson. “Many of the NDP platform items, such as a diversified economy and an improvement in grain transportation, also match our goals. These are issues we have been working on for quite a while.”

As we have since 1959, AFA will advocate on issues of importance to Alberta farmers, ranchers and food producers. Jacobson has already reached out to Premier-Designate Rachel Notley’s office to request a meeting with the new NDP rural caucus once it is announced.

On a diversified economy

AFA couldn’t agree more that the prosperity of our province not only depends on our oil and gas industry, but on having a diverse economy that emphasizes our agriculture industry. AFA is ready to share our knowledge and to work with the new government to perpetuate Alberta’s long-standing international reputation as leaders and innovators in agriculture.

On the issue of grain transportation

Although there has been some improvement in this area, grain shipments are still not moving at a level AFA would like to see. Jacobson chairs the Canadian Federation of Agriculture Transportation Committee, which in turn is a member of the Agriculture Industry Canadian Transportation Act Review Coalition. The coalition represents a majority of Canada’s largest agricultural product shippers and processors as well as a broad cross-section of grower-funded organizations. The coalition is working to ensure Canada has a competitive rail system that meets the needs of producers and exporters. AFA has also been active with the Government of Alberta Transportation Task Team.

Jacobson says he looks forward to reviewing in detail the new government’s priorities for agriculture and sitting down with its caucus in a mutually constructive spirit. He believes that there is great opportunity to advance the industry together.

“As Alberta’s largest producer-funded general farm organization, AFA is non-partisan,” Jacobson says. “Since we are not bound by any political party or sector or group, we are available to listen to producers across all agricultural sectors and be an advocate for the changes they are looking for.”

YouTube helps share passion for agriculture

In October 2014, AFA 2nd VP Humphrey Banack opened his farm to Canadian TV icon Rick Mercer. The Banack family warmly welcomed Mercer (and the sizable Canadian audience who watches the show) to their Camrose family farm to join them for harvest.

What the film crew captured shows a slice of life on the farm, and the 6-minute video segment ‘RMR: Rick Harvests Wheat’ has already climbed to over 36,000 views as of this blog posting! You can watch the antics here:

A growing number of agriculture producers and agri-businesses find the power of YouTube to be an incredible resource in telling their story.

If you plug the words ‘agriculture Canada’ into the YouTube search engine, you’ll find more than 90,000 results on this very broad topic … everything from TEDx talks about building a future for agriculture to organic agriculture in the City of Toronto. The video possibilities are endless, and many in agriculture are taking advantage of this free medium.

As for Banack, when asked by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture to participate in the Rick Mercer Report project, he said yes knowing the TV show and resulting video could reach a broad audience.

“The video has had thousands of views to date, and that kind of reach is important to farmers,” Banack says. “It’s critical to showcase agriculture to educate Canadian consumers and our urban neighbors about what we do. I believe our customers and consumers are thirsty for this information.”

AFA has joined the ranks of companies on YouTube to tell our story and give viewers a chance to see the priorities we are working on in the upcoming year.

On our AFA YouTube channel, you’ll find information about us and also links to videos by others featuring AFA or some of our board members and executives.

Our main page can be found here, with the links to our individual AFA playlists below. We hope you’ll enjoy checking out these videos. Watch for more to come!

Introduction to AFA

AFA In The News

AFA Priorities

Food Freedom Day: hug a farmer and give thanks

Each year, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) raises awareness of the agriculture and food industry by celebrating Food Freedom Day: the date when the average Canadian has earned enough income to pay for their annual grocery bill.

In 2015, it’s estimated that Canadians will spend just 10.6% of their disposable income on food. This year, that places Food Freedom Day on Friday, February 6.

“Farmers are very proud that we are productive enough to make an abundant supply of safe, nutritious food available for a small portion of the average Alberta family’s income. It wasn’t too long ago that Canadians were spending closer to 18% of their disposable income on food,” says Grace MacGregor, AFA Board member who farms near Hughenden, Alberta.

The 2015 theme for Food Freedom Day explores the importance of soil in the production of our food. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has also named 2015 the International Year of the Soils.

MacGregor notes that in addition to providing the foundation for wholesome food production, soil filters our water, it can lessen the impact of flood and drought, and healthy, productive soil is ultimately needed for a sustainable future for us all.

Alberta producers – and farmers across Canada – have been leaders in sustainable soil practices. The move towards conservation tillage practices that improve soil erosion and the quality of the soil has greatly improved cultivated land. Other technologies – like using GPS systems in cropping – are also helping to successfully manage soil conditions on the farm.

MacGregor notes that as Alberta farmers look ahead to the 2015 planting season, they are as focussed as ever on producing safe, high-quality food for Albertans and export customers around the world.

For more information on Food Freedom Day, visit the CFA website: http://www.cfa-fca.ca/programs-projects/food-freedom-day-2015, or join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #ffd2015.