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!

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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!

Insurance tips to help you avoid risks on the farm this summer

The Co-operators is an AFA corporate partner and has many different types of farm insurance specifically designed for our agriculture sector. That includes property, contents, machinery, livestock, producer, hobby farms, accident insurance and more.

Did you know that being an AFA member also gives you exclusive access to coverage and savings on a variety of insurance products from The Co-operators? Remember to tell your agent you are an AFA member to get your discount!

These seasonal tips from The Co-operators will help prevent problems on your farm.

Drought conditions may increase hazards on your property

By summer 2015, many areas in Alberta have seen the driest conditions in 50 years. For farms with organic materials like hay and feed, plus large mechanical equipment, dry weather can mean additional potential fire hazards on the farm.

  • Keep the yard clear of brush and other flammable debris as sparks from machinery or stray cigarettes can turn litter into kindling. Keep flammable items away from heat sources.
  • Never discard smoking materials on the ground or in plant pots. Improperly extinguished smoking materials can smoulder undetected for days before igniting a fire.
  • Proper airflow and ventilation in buildings helps disperse flammable chemical vapours, silo gases and other hazardous by-products.
  • Maintain electrical equipment and keep wires safely enclosed in metal or PVC pipes to protect them from exposure to weather and animals.
  • Refuel equipment outdoors, away from open flames and as far from buildings as possible, to allow harmful vapours to dissipate.
  • Regularly inspect and maintain portable fire extinguishers. Keep extinguishers easy to find in each farm building, especially near mechanical equipment and storage areas that contain flammable materials.
  • Never leave portable heating units unattended, and avoid using heat lamps, solar lamps, trouble lights or heated watering bowls in your pets’ outdoor home (e.g., dog house). Portable electrical heating systems or temporary installations commonly contribute to fires.

When you’re away, keep your property safe

With the summer season here, extra steps may be needed to keep your home or cottage secure, and your property safe.

If you are planning to leave your house or vacation property unattended for stretches of time, call your insurance company to find out if they have a time limit for occupancy absences. Most insurance companies specify the time your property can be unoccupied and still benefit from insurance protection. You may need to have someone check the property every few days or shut off your water supply.

Next, leave your property with that ‘lived-in’ look to help deter vandals. These steps will help make your home or property look lived-in while you are away:

  • keep window coverings closed
  • put interior lights on timers
  • if applicable, have mail collected at least every 72 hours
  • have someone shovel snow or plow roads in the winter, or cut lawns or trim bushes in the summer

Remember, if you have a cottage or seasonal property, you may require a different policy for coverage. These Co-operators seasonal policies offer many kinds of coverage to suit your needs.

For more home insurance tips and information, visit The Co-operators’ Answer Centre or contact a local Co-operators financial advisor.

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.

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

New water project welcome news for farmers

It’s no secret that water-related events can have a devastating impact on agriculture. Whether it’s a catastrophic flood, wet fields at seeding time or extended drought, farmers are often faced with either too much water or not nearly enough.

What’s more, science lacks a solid understanding of why these events occur. For Camrose-area farmer Humphrey Banack, it’s hard to pick an issue of more direct importance to farmers.

“With recent disastrous water events in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, we all know how devastating flooding can be,” says Banack. “Although the attention sometimes centers on the impacts to urban properties, water-related events can be a major risk for primary agriculture, too.”

As a farmer managing 5,000 acres, Banack has had his share of battles with insufficient or excess moisture. He recalls the wet spring of April 2011 in the Camrose area as one of the worst.

Now, as 2nd Vice President with the Alberta Federation of Agriculture (AFA), Banack is involved in a new, large-scale effort to remove some of the mystery surrounding water events in rural Alberta.

On March 17, 2015, Member of Parliament for Wetaskiwin Blaine Calkins, on behalf of Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, announced $1.3 million in federal support for AFA to develop a unique computer model that will better identify the risk and impacts of overland flooding and drought in agricultural areas. Federal funding is being provided through the AgriRisk Initiatives program.

The project’s focus will be to construct and showcase a suite of complex hydrologic models to assess interactive water movement throughout the South Saskatchewan River Basin. Under each water‐related risk assessment, the model will build maps that define risk zones within the study area. The model will then quantify the frequency, geographical extent and severity of water-related events.

To execute the project, AFA will team up with private consultants experienced in agriculture risk and with world-renowned hydrologic and climate change scientists to generate the computer simulation model. The three-year project will begin April 1, 2015 and continue through March 31, 2018.

Banack notes that this project fits perfectly with AFA’s mandate. As Alberta’s largest producer-funded general farm organization, AFA supports a sustainable agriculture industry with viable farm incomes. The data collected under this project could contribute to better flood risk analysis and eventually lead to the development of overland flooding insurance products. Spearheading effective farm risk management tools for farmers is a key priority area for AFA.

“Many people don’t know that Canada is the only G8 country where overland flooding is not an insurable risk,” Banack says. “The federal funding provided to AFA will allow us to begin immediately in addressing the important area of water and risk assessment in agriculture, potentially paving the way for practical insurance solutions for producers.”

March 15-21 is Canadian Agricultural Safety Week

Farm businesses are a complex combination of highly specialized and technical equipment. Growth in a farm business can also increase the number of people who are involved in that business.

Tragically, in a few cases, all this can add up to fatalities and injuries. In Canada, too many people die in farming accidents each year. Many of those incidents are preventable.

Humphrey Banack, Alberta Federation of Agriculture (AFA) 2nd Vice President, says agriculture has been identified as a ‘high risk’ industry, and even one death or serious injury is too many.

“We’re an industry that operates in our own backyard,” says Banack, whose family farms 5,000 acres near Camrose. “Safety on farms is critical. I know neighbors who have been injured, and even killed, on farms. We have to look at safety and plan to be safe.”

Banack and his wife, Terry, feel passionate about farm safety. In 2014, they joined nine other Alberta farmers to volunteer-test a pilot safety program being developed by Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD). The pilot encouraged farmers to document their farm safety practices as a way of managing safety risk on the farm.

Banack says because there are a lot of moving parts with a farm business, it can sometimes be a challenge to teach someone new about the wide variety of safety protocols on a farm. That’s why the Banacks have created a written farm safety plan, and encourage other producers to do the same.

“It’s not something you do once and it’s done,” he says. “A good on-farm safety plan is constantly being updated as the farm business grows and evolves.”

Banack says the AFA Board will continue to push for progress in the area of farm safety. AFA is actively involved in initiatives like those being brought forward by ARD to improve our province’s farm safety record.

Banack also recommends that producers check out the information available through Canadian Agricultural Safety Week which occurs March 15 through 21, 2015. This annual public education campaign focuses on the importance of safety in agriculture and provides producers with resources and information to make their farms safer.

More information on Canadian Agricultural Safety Week can be found at www.agsafetyweek.ca. For videos featuring the Banacks speaking about farm safety, visit the Alberta Federation of Agriculture YouTube Channel and click on the videos in the ‘AFA In The News’ playlist.

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.