Agri-info Newsletter – August 2016

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Next agricultural policy framework—tell us what you think!

Agriculture programs and services are coordinated across the country by federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) governments, and we want feedback from you as we work to develop the next agricultural policy for the sector.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada launched an online consultation in May to gather feedback on the current agricultural framework, Growing Forward 2 (GF2), which focuses on innovation, competitiveness and market development. GF2 was launched in 2013, and will be in place until 2018.

The recently announced Calgary Statement outlines the key priority areas for the next framework and was developed by FPT governments based on feedback from a variety of stakeholders, including producers, processors and industry. We invite you to share your experience and opinions through our updated online consultation, to help develop the next framework, which will provide investments to help the sector meet the challenges and opportunities of the future.

Your feedback is important

Input from stakeholders like you will help shape future policy and programs, and support a competitive, innovative and environmentally sustainable agriculture sector. So, tell us about your experience with Growing Forward 2 and share what you’d like to see in the next framework by providing your comments on the Calgary Statement. You can also email us at or connect with us through social media by using #AgNPF.

Find out more

New approach to Governor in Council and Ministerial appointments

The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food is responsible for recommending Governor in Council appointments to five different agri-food organizations: the Canadian Dairy Commission, the Canadian Grain Commission, Farm Credit Canada, Farm Products Council of Canada and the Canadian Agricultural Review Tribunal. The Minister is also responsible for the Appointment of Board and Committee members to the Farm Debt Mediation Service Appeal Boards and National Program Advisory Committee.

Two new webpages have been launched to provide stakeholders with access to information related to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Governor in Council Appointments and Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Ministerial Appointments, including current employment opportunities that fall within the Minister’s purview.

The Government of Canada is updating its approach to Governor in Council appointments. These appointments are made by the Governor General, on the advice of the Queen’s Privy Council of Canada. Appointee responsibilities range from making quasi-judicial decisions, and providing advice and recommendations on socio-economic development issues, to managing Crown corporations. The new approach will include an open, transparent, and merit-based selection process that takes into consideration employment equity and diversity.

These Governor in Council and Ministerial appointments play a fundamental role in helping these agriculture and agri-food entities deliver on their respective mandates as well as supporting the Canadian agriculture sector. For more information about these entities and their related appointment processes and opportunities please visit Employment Opportunities - Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

New strategy to help farmers cope with livestock emergencies

It’s a farmer’s nightmare: finding a case of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in their herd. Beef farmers today still recall how long it took for the sector to recover when BSE hit in 2003—and how difficult it was to make decisions during the evolving and complex crisis.

Canada has one of the safest food systems in the world. Although the chances of a border closure happening in any given year are low, livestock farmers know that the impact of an FMD case could be far worse than what they experienced with BSE. Canada’s livestock sector depends on its export markets; over 70% of hogs and 50% of beef produced in Canada are destined for international markets. The first case of FMD would likely prevent Canada from exporting live hogs and beef cattle, as well as fresh pork and beef products in all of its key international markets. Yet farmers would still need to feed and take care of their animals, all the while not knowing when those markets would re-open.

In a crisis like FMD, farmers have no time to lose: decisions must be made quickly to protect animal health and welfare, and to lessen impacts to their economic investments. Much like farmers, the entire livestock sector would also be faced with making rapid decisions with potentially long-lasting impacts.

Governments recognized that farmers and the agricultural sector can’t do this alone. Only through collaborative efforts, involving federal and provincial governments, as well as industry, can this complex and multi-faceted issue be addressed. When BSE was discovered, there was no comprehensive strategy prepared to deal with the healthy animals. The sector and governments have made significant progress in preparedness for a border closure since the incidents in 2003. Since then, government and industry partnered to develop the Livestock Market Interruption Strategy to better prepare for the impacts of a border closure.

The Strategy will help governments act quickly to work towards re-opening markets and to determine where actions, including what transitional assistance measures, would be most effective to mitigate some of the impacts caused by such a crisis. It will also help the industry by zeroing in on one of the most difficult aspects of a border closure - the challenges of humanely and efficiently depopulating and disposing of healthy animals that don’t have a market and that may quickly face significant welfare challenges associated with the overcrowding of facilities. In a large-scale border closure, this would involve a considerable effort by governments as well as the production and processing sectors.

Federal, provincial and territorial ministers endorsed the Strategy at their annual three-day meeting in Calgary on July 22, 2016. Ministers also endorsed the continuation of this effective partnership, to continue to enhance their preparedness for this serious risk.

Canadian cattle research: clearing the air

A recent study led by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) research scientists shows Canada’s beef sector has reduced its environmental footprint over the past 30 years.

Dr. Tim McAllister and his AAFC colleagues, Dr. Karen Beauchemin, Dr. Roland Kroebel and Shannan Little, partnered with Environment Canada’s Dr. Doug MacDonald and the University of Manitoba’s Dr. Getahun Legesse, Dr. Kim Ominski and Dr. Emma McGeough to investigate the association between beef and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 1981 to 2011. They discovered that producing one kilogram of beef creates 15% fewer GHG emissions today compared with 30 years ago.

This significant reduction is a result of improved production methods, more efficient feeding, higher crop yields and better herd management strategies.

Dr. McAllister says these improvements—and the corresponding reduction in GHGs—are thanks to the combined efforts of scientists across the country to develop technologies in genetics, nutrition, reproductive physiology and herd management, along with the willingness of Canadian beef producers to adopt them.

How we measured

The researchers estimated GHG emissions using a life-cycle assessment (birth to farm gate) based on Holos, a software program available to producers.

Holos, a Canadian whole-farm emissions model, was designed by AAFC researchers and is currently led by Dr. Kroebel and his research team at the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre. The software estimates GHG emissions on farms based on information entered into the program and explores ways to reduce them.

What’s next?

The initial results of the study were published in Animal Production Science in December 2015.

Future studies are needed to monitor how beef production affects other sustainability metrics, such as water use, air quality, biodiversity and the provision of ecosystems services. The remaining phases of the environmental footprint study are expected to unfold in 2018.

Funding for the study was provided by the Beef Cattle Industry Science Cluster, a partnership between AAFC and the Beef Cattle Research Council.

To learn more, watch this video: Ahead of the Herd in Cutting Cattle Carbon.

Swath grazing here to stay

During the bovine spongiform encephalopathy crisis of 2003, farmers embraced swath grazing—and it likely saved some of them from bankruptcy because it dramatically reduced winter feeding costs. Today, about 22% of Prairie cattle producers use swath grazing for winter feeding. A recent study commissioned by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) confirms that this feeding system continues to deliver significant benefits to producers.

Swath grazing involves seeding a cereal crop in mid- to late June, swathing it in mid-September, and leaving the swathes in the field for cattle to graze on during the winter. It reduces the labour, machinery and fuel expenses of baling forage, moving it to the farmyard, delivering it to the cattle all winter, and hauling the manure from the winter feeding area back out to the field the next spring. Instead, the cattle do all that work themselves. No wonder the method has become popular.

Essentially, the longer cows can graze outside, the more money farmers can save. Research into swath grazing has aimed to discover whether it’s possible to extend the grazing season by an average of 100 days. The annual savings depend on the grain—savings are most dramatic for triticale ($120 annually per cow), and lower for corn ($93) and barley ($74).

Research on swathing began in the mid-1990s. According to the study, since 1995, the beef industry, the federal government and Alberta and Saskatchewan invested a total of about $10 million into the research, with AAFC contributing just over half of that funding ($5.4 million).

With an estimated 3.1 million beef cows in the Prairies (as of July 2015), the return on research dollar investment is estimated at $1.3 billion. This means each dollar invested in swath grazing research yielded 170:1 in benefits to the sector.

This innovative grazing practice is positioning Canada at the forefront of global agricultural science and innovation. It is also reducing Canada’s ecological footprint by minimizing the fossil fuels that more traditional systems require for storing feed and hauling manure.

To learn more, read the article Frozen dinners for cattle: swath grazing saves time and money.

There's an app for that! Real-time weather data

AgWeather Atlantic and AgWeather Quebec have gone mobile. In addition to the wide range of information available on the AgWeather website, Quebec and Atlantic Canada farmers can now get real-time, agriculture-specific weather data at their fingertips using a smartphone app. The tool will help producers make informed decisions so they can boost their farms’ productivity and lessen their environmental footprints.

Farmers can use the app’s weather radar animation while out in the field to track rainfall as it approaches their exact locations. If it’s going to rain, they can gauge when it will start on their farm. Other useful features include warnings about potential pest outbreaks, degree day information, a hay drying index, and a comprehensive weather forecast.

AgWeather was developed by Solutions Mesonets, a not-for-profit organization. It provides decision-making tools recommended by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. More features will be added to the app in the coming months.

You can download the AgWeather mobile app for free from the App Store (open in new window) or Google Play (open in new window).

Federal budget supports genomics research to benefit agriculture

As part of the Government of Canada’s new innovation agenda, Budget 2016 announced $30 million over six years to support advanced agricultural genomics research to address biological threats to agriculture. Genomics is a branch of science that studies DNA sequences and how they interact.

This funding will enable Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) scientists to "DNA fingerprint" and digitize thousands of specimens of pests, weeds and diseases from the Canadian National Collections, and to create reference collections that can be used to identify high-risk organisms. AAFC’s current collections contain more than 17 million physical specimens of insects, plants, fungi, bacteria and nematodes. Canadian producers will benefit from faster, more accurate identification of pests, weeds and diseases, allowing them to make informed decisions on pesticide, herbicide, and fungicide applications.

Adding these DNA fingerprints, also called "DNA barcodes", to existing international databases will help international border staff identify threats more quickly and accurately, helping to keep trade flowing while protecting Canada’s environment.

This funding will expand Canada’s capacity for science-based decision-making, which in turn will improve both agricultural production and international trade. It will also protect agricultural biodiversity through better pest and disease management.

Find out more

Federal, Provincial, and Territorial Ministers work in partnership to strengthen agriculture sector

Canada's federal, provincial and territorial Ministers of Agriculture

Canada's federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) Ministers of Agriculture met in July for their annual conference in Calgary. Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to work together and outlined the key priorities for the next agricultural policy framework in the Calgary Statement. A new questionnaire to gather feedback on the Calgary Statement was also launched, and we encourage you to provide your input.

Collaboration between FPT governments is vital to ensuring programs and policies continue to help farmers grow their businesses and succeed. Ministers talked about issues facing the agriculture sector, and ways to ensure that it continues to meet challenges and opportunities.

If you would like to learn more about the conference, please read the news release Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers Set the Direction for the Next Agricultural Framework.

Growing corn in the cold

Growing Corn in the Cold
Video: Growing Corn in the Cold

Biodegradable mulch is helping to grow corn in colder climates, feed dairy cattle and putting fresh cobs of corn into farmers' markets. Watch this video to learn more.

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