Food for Thought: Influencers and Leaders in Canadian Agriculture

Andrew Campbell: 52 farms in 52 weeks

Farming is more of a lifestyle than a career. A commitment to working seven days a week as a steward of the land, being on-call twenty-four hours a day for any kind of emergency. But for farmers like Andrew Campbell, there’s always more that can be done.

His video series, 52 farms in 52 weeks, has him travelling around Canada profiling farms from every sector and giving an inside look at their day-to-day operations. From tulips to water buffalo to robot-run dairy farms, he’s seen them all. But growing up, Campbell didn’t think that farming would be his calling.

Campbell grew up on a dairy farm near London, Ontario, and after high-school he left the farm to study Journalism at Fanshaw College. Eventually this led to a job at CKNX, a country music station where he worked as a news anchor and reporter. Soon he moved to the position of Farm Director, responsible for covering agriculture issues, effectively merging his upbringing with his passion for journalism. But after a while, he was drawn back to the cows.

“I was talking to farmers a lot, keeping up with industry news and events and all that kind of stuff. There was a realization that the industry I had grown up in was a pretty neat one,” says Campbell.

“That idea of being that downtown Toronto news anchor wasn’t something that I really wanted to be. I was in a small town and that was too big-city for me as it was. I wanted to be out in the country and raise my kids in the same type of spot that I was fortunate enough to be raised in and so we headed to the farm.”

It wasn’t long before Campbell’s journalistic tendencies surfaced once again. He started a picture-a-day project on Twitter, #farm365, sharing pictures of his farm to his followers, showing them what the daily life and routine of a dairy farmer was like. It wasn’t long before the positive reception influenced Campbell to expand his idea into his current project, 52 Farms in 52 Weeks, where every week he visits a different type of farm, interviewing the owners and giving an authentic look into their operations.

“There’s so many other farms and operations and innovations that people should understand what goes on. Even if it’s a little farm or a big farm they’re all family farms with people trying to do their best every day. That was kind of the thing that made me think maybe it’s time to highlight more than just my own cows and step outside and highlight what other people are doing,” says Campbell. 

Andrew headshot.jpg

Since the project started, Campbell has visited a wide variety of farms, and there’s one thing he sees in every single farm he visits.

“There’s so much similarity down in the depths of why people farm. It’s about having your family around you, but also the mindset of challenging yourself to always do it a little better next time, no matter what the obstacles are. Farming is an all in type thing. They invest everything they have into it which is cool,” says Campbell.

This idea of constant improvement isn't foreign to Campbell's own dairy farm. He says that staying up to date on research and consulting with his team of nutritionists, vets and agronomists gives him the edge to stay sustainable while maximizing profits.

"We focus a lot on the cows - since they take up the most of our time. Little things like improving feed intakes, which typically translates into more milk production. By making little changes and then consistently tracking it to see what happens - we can know when we've done something better and then look for the next improvement. One little improvement may not look like a lot. But five little improvements working together can incredible effective," says Campbell.

Campbell’s video series doesn’t shy away from touchy subjects. He’s visited a veal farm, and more recently talked to farmers about neonics and the reasons why they are sprayed onto crops. In today’s world of social media outrage it can be a dangerous path to take, but Campbell believes these are issues that are best served by shining a light onto them instead of keeping them in the dark.

“People have an idea about what a veal farm looks like, and people aren’t going to get a different perception of it if we don’t show them,’ says Campbell.

“A lot of the negative perceptions of agriculture tend to come from fear or guilt. Those two emotions alone control probably most of the skepticism of agriculture. So let’s target those emotions. If we know that going in people are feeling guilty about a veal farm then let’s make them not feel guilty. Not by dressing it up but by showing them what it’s actually like. If it’s fear on pesticides lets target that emotion and say why is it the way it is. It’s not that they finish the video and all of a sudden they’re smiling and go buy RoundUp and everybody’s happy. That’s not the point. If you target that emotion you can start to hopefully have them think a little bit deeper on it than just that raw emotion that they’ve been dealing with up until that point.”

In fact, on the veal and pesticide videos mentioned, there are far more positive comments than negative. Some viewers mention that the farms are much better than what they pictured them to be. A step in the right direction for public opinion on agriculture.

Campbell notes that it isn’t only important to give the public an honest view of the things going within agriculture, but it’s also crucial that the government understands the complex aspects of agriculture if they want to meet the goal they set forth in the 2017 budget of increasing agriculture exports to $75 billion by 2025.

“I think it’s one of those challenges that shows the realities of what we face in the industry. Less and less people in Agriculture Canada or the civil service in general have any idea of some of the complicated policies in agriculture.” Says Campbell.

“It’s not a black and white business. I know people that say ‘Oh the government should only hire people with farm experience for those positions,” well that can’t happen. There just aren’t the people there anymore. What we have to do is make sure that all levels of government, including the bureaucracy itself, understand some of these more complex parts of ag policy.”

This comes after the federal government announced the reduction of annual contribution limits for AgriInvest, a move that has angered various farm groups around the country as it is in direct contradiction of their goal to raise exports. Campbell says in the past decades he has seen a slow “erosion” of support from the federal government, where they continue to pull back just a little bit of support every few years.

“You’re talking big dollars in some cases and people without a whole lot of experience or knowledge of the industry see that and say ‘Oh we need to cut some money in the budget and here’s a pretty easy spot,’ they see that only a couple thousand people will be impacted and they kind of trim it off. Like fuel tax redemptions. Little things like that where ten or fifteen years ago you would be crucified if you even mentioned that. Now they are always putting these issues up for discussion,” says Campbell.

“I think though that we’ve got to be very careful that they don’t erode some of those things that have helped us get to the point we’re at today. That don’t erode some of that competitiveness that we have here in Canada. And even if it’s not to be more competitive but to be as competitive as other countries in the world they have to be very careful as to how to address that so we can continue to build the industry as we all want to do.”

What to Know Before You Shop: Myths and Misconceptions about GMOs and farming

Food is important to all of us. Not only is it the fuel we run on, it also brings communities and families together and is the focal point for traditions and celebrations of cultures around the world. We care about the way it’s grown, its environmental impacts and how it affects us when we eat it. For years there’s been lots of discussion about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), pesticides and the long-term effects they have on the human body.

In articles here at Farm to Table, we explore the many paths to producing Canadian food, whether they be organic or conventional, with or without GMOs — but with so much misinformation out there on GMOs and the differences between organic and non-organic, it’s hard to make informed choices on what we buy. In this article, we look at some of the myths and misconceptions about the way your food is grown, so you can walk into the supermarket with a clearer sense of how to find the food that meets your values and nutritional needs.

Common myths and misconceptions:

Health and safety of GMOs have not been tested

GMOs in Canada go through, at a minimum, a seven to ten-year process of research, development, testing and safety assessment before they can be approved for sale.  For every GMO food approved in Canada, a decision document describing the novel food and summarizing the safety information used to determine its safety as a food is posted on the Novel Foods and Ingredients page of Health Canada's Web site.

Some GMOs are created to be immune to specific herbicides, allowing the farmer to eliminate weeds with the herbicide without damaging their crops. The prime example of this is Monsanto's RoundUp Ready Crops, which are immune to the herbicide RoundUp (otherwise known as glyphosate). So far, studies have found that there are no health risks from RoundUp used in farming.

Besides, when it comes to food safety, some of the most toxic culprits are found in our natural environment — E. coli, salmonella, listeria, to name few. The good news is that with proper food preparation methods, we can manage safety risks from these types of pathogens. Check out this Farm to Table article for tips on food safety at home.

GMOs cause cancer

News about a study that linked RoundUp pesticide to cancer in rats spread wildly, and the factoid that RoundUp causes cancer can be still be found circulating today. However, that study was retracted for various reasons. One of the key complaints had to do with study design. For a two-year trial, researchers used a strain of rodents that spontaneously develop tumors and other health problems after 18 months. A much more detailed list of the issues with the study can be found here.

In terms of the pesticides used along with GMOs, no reproducible studies have shown that RoundUp is harmful to humans.

 Not all organic labels mean the same thing

What does organic mean to you? Does it mean the food was grown without chemicals being sprayed on it? Does it mean that the food was grown naturally and without GMOs?

In Canada, every province has different rules for defining the term “organic” and the process through which something is certified organic. While there are federal regulations, these apply only to producers who want to use the Canada Organic label and to those who sell organic products across provincial, territorial or international borders. For products produced and sold in the same province, provincial regulations apply.

This 2017 report shows that in Canada “locally produced organic food in certain provinces can be promoted and sold locally as ‘organic,’ even though the farmer hasn’t been certified as an organic producer.” That means unless you see a Canada Organic certified label, you might be paying extra money simply for the word organic and nothing else. Have you ever purchased an organic avocado? Well, there is no such thing as a GMO avocado. Sometimes organic is simply a marketing term. 

The same can be said for the "GMO-free" label on many crops. Do a quick google search whenever you see this label, as many vegetables have never been genetically modified and therefore have no GMO alternative, making the label meaningless. In Canada, there are only five GM crops grown commercially: Canola, corn, soy, sugar beet and alfalfa.

Organic is more sustainable

Many people believe that organic means that no pesticides were used, but in many cases due to an organic crop’s reduced immunity to pests, more pesticides are used than in conventional farming. The main difference is that organic farmers use natural pesticides, while conventional farmers use synthetic pesticides. Problem is, studies have found that in some cases not only were the synthetic pesticides more effective means of control, the organic pesticides were more ecologically damaging, including causing higher mortality in other, non-target species.

Now, this doesn’t mean every organic pesticide is worse than every synthetic pesticide, but it does prove the point that natural does not beat synthetic as a rule. That’s why so many farm organizations call for scientific evaluations that are proven with empirical evidence.

As an example of an environmental benefit in conventional farming, think about factors like using less water and reducing GHG emissions. Herbicide-tolerant crops can be sprayed with herbicides to deal with weeds so that farmers don’t have to till their fields. This reduces fuel use by tractors as well as soil degradation and water runoff — and it sequesters (stores) more carbon in the soil.

GMOs are unnatural and therefore worse for you

While we’ve already addressed the “natural is inherently better” myth above, we have yet to talk about GMO crop development. A lot of people believe that because the process of genetic modification is done in a laboratory, there may be harmful consequences. In reality, plants have been modified genetically through traditional breeding practices for hundreds to thousands of years. And this can happen in or out of a laboratory. Working in laboratory simply speeds the process up while making the genetic changes more accurate.

Don’t believe that? Take a look at this infographic that compares the original watermelon versus the one we have today:

Infographic by James Kennedy

Through thousands of years of breeding and evolution, the watermelon has changed from a small, bitter fruit that required a hammer to open to the juicy party snacks that we enjoy today. They can be grown in a wide variety of climates, taste sweeter, contain more vitamins and come in over 100 different varieties. With today’s technologies, these same effects could have been accomplished in decades instead of millennia.

It is important to note that biodiversity is an extremely important aspect of having a healthy farm. If all farmers were to grow one variety of crop and then a dangerous pest began destroying them, we would face disastrous food shortages. This is what happened during the Great Potato Famine in Ireland. Developing new strains of food is essential to combating disease and pests.

The subject of conventional versus organic farming should be changed to a discussion of conventional farming AND organic. The existence of one does not mean the death of the other. As long as consumers continue to seek out organic food, farmers will be happy to produce what meets their needs. Both approaches to farming are necessary to meet the values and needs of a growing population.

Profiling Farmers' Markets across Canada (Part 2)

It's the start of summer, and there's no better time to enjoy the sunshine and check out your local farmers' market! In part 2 of our series profiling markets all across Canada, Farm to Table has set its sights on Quebec, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland to explore some of the best markets that they have to offer.

Photo courtesy of St. Norbert Farmers' Market

St. Norbert Farmers’ Market (Winnipeg, Manitoba)

With over 100 vendors selling everything from produce to baked goods to handmade soap, Le Marché St. Norbert Farmers’ Market is a great place to check out on the weekend to pick up everything you need. And everything is produced in Manitoba! As Manitoba’s largest farmers’ market, it has become an important community gathering place over the years and has amazing weekly events and live music. St. Norbert's has an online market, which allows customers to pre-purchase products online and pick them up later, ensuring you get exactly what you want every visit. 

Phillip Veldhuis, a beekeeper who operates Phil’s Honey, says he has built a steady stream of regular customers over generations through working at the market.

"I sell honey to the grandchildren of customers from my youth. We have done this since I was a poor student. I am neither now, but we can't stop," says Veldhuis.

Jim Lintott from Lintott Farm sells grass-fed beef, and St. Norbert's has allowed him to create a market for his product that is new and normally in short supply. His relationship with his regulars is what motivates him and also helps him improve his product.

"The customers we have are very appreciative of what we do environmentally and the compliments on the product are important in keeping us moving forward. The feedback is very important and we keep that in mind as we select cattle genetics and manage our farm," says Lintott.

Be sure to check out the market's harvest schedule on their website so you know what’s in season when you go.


Photos by Brett Bunston

Charlottetown Farmers’ Market (Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island)

Over forty local farmers, craft & food artisans and producers gather at Charlottetown Farmers’ Market, Prince Edward Island’s original and biggest farmers’ market. While all the food is local, the flavors are international. You can get authentic international cuisines such as African, Mexican, Polish and many more.

You can also get products from local artisans such as handmade jewelry, wood carvings, crafts, natural soap and body care products and much more. Check them out every Saturday from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.


Photos courtesy of St. John's Farmers' Market

St. John’s Farmers’ Market (St. John's, Newfoundland)

St. John’s Farmers’ Market is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and has a pretty interesting history. Starting as just a single farmer selling excess produce, the first market was a huge success, attracting over 500 customers! A regular farmers’ market was created in response to the huge turnout. It has grown over the last decade to have over 30 vendors, selling fresh produce, baked goods, prepared meals, specialty foods and art and antiques.


Photos courtesy of the Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market

Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market – Halifax, Nova Scotia

The Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market is almost as old as Halifax itself! It was originally established in 1750, making it the oldest continuously operating farmers’ market in North America.

In 2010 the market relocated to the Halifax Seaport where it hosts over 250 vendors on the pier.

The market itself is nestled in the arts and culture district, making it a great meeting point for a wide variety of culture and communities.

David Greenberg from Abundant Acres Farm has been operating at the market for four years. As an organically certified producer, he says one of his favorite aspects of the market is the direct feedback he gets from his customers.

"I've had people come up to me and tell me that after consistently eating my food they feel healthier," says Greenberg.


Photos courtesy of Lachute Farmer's Market

Lachute Farmers' Market (Lachute, Quebec)

Lachute Farmer’s Market has been around since the 1950’s, and also houses a flea market as well as a horse auction! Tuesday is the big day to visit this market as all the vendors are open for business, while a smaller portion of the market opens on Sundays. The Market consists of two restaurants, a large indoor antique mall with 20 vendors year-round, one inside-bar and one bar outside for summer entertainment with live music.

Profiling Farmers' Markets across Canada (Part 1)

By the Canadian Federation of Agriculture

It's that time of year once again! With the arrival of warm spring weather, many farmers look forward to connecting with their customers at local farmers’ markets. Known for bringing together a vibrant mix of food, culture and community spirit, farmers' markets are a community cornerstone in many parts of Canada. And, of course, they're among the best places to get fresh, local produce to suit even the most discerning of shoppers. Markets are also a great way to meet the people that grow your food and learn a little bit about the process that goes into their work day-by-day.

In celebrating the 2017 market season, Farm-to-Table is profiling some of the most interesting farmers’ markets in our diverse country. We're publishing a three-part series of articles, starting with our first 5 profiles showcasing markets in Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, Fredericton, and Saskatoon. Stay tuned for more profiles next month.  

Get inspired and check out the markets in your hometown!

Photos from @vanmarkets on Facebook

Vancouver Farmers Market (Vancouver, British Columbia)

Founded in 1995 Vancouver Farmers Market is the youngest market on our list. But in those 21 years, they have expanded considerably and now feature eight weekly markets, with annual vendor sales reaching up to $8.17 million.

With that amazing success, they haven’t stopped supporting their local producers. They are quick to note the importance of local agriculture in the economy, citing that buying from the market helps contribute to the $15 million of direct and indirect benefits to the local economy that the market provides.


Photo by Matthew Houston

Parkdale Farmers Market (Ottawa, Ontario)

Established in 1942, the Parkdale Farmers’ Market may not be the largest market in the Ottawa, but it compensates by being open seven days a week, 12 hours a day and focusing entirely on locally grown produce and flowers. Every stall is lined with rows of corns, tomatoes, potatoes and berries.

“We don’t just bring vegetables, we bring community,” says Viki Rochon, who has been set up at the Parkdale market for five years. Her farm has been selling at other markets since 1957.

She says the main reason to work at the farmers’ market is money (of course), but what she really loves is developing relationships with the people that come to her stall.

“Lots of our regular customers like our produce, and our attitude.”


Photos by @worth_y on Instagram

Crossroads Market (Calgary, Alberta)

Calgary’s largest year-round indoor/outdoor market has a lot to offer. With over 150 antique and craft vendors, it’s just as likely that you pick up a new armoire as it is you grab a fresh carrot.

For Neetu Chahal, a farmer who has been selling at the Crossroads Market since 1995, the best thing about the market is that he gets to put his personal touch into the food.

“You can tell the customer how it’s grown, from where it was planted to what kind of chemicals we’re used and why,” says Chahal.

“It’s really cool that people get to see that.”


Photos from @FrederictonFarmersMarket on Facebook

Fredericton Boyce Farmers Market (Fredericton, New Brunswick)

Boyce Market’s proximity to the ocean allows for it to feature ultra-fresh seafood as well as local produce. Open every Saturday from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., it is THE spot to pick up what you need for the weekend, or even the rest of the week.

The selection here is impeccable; bread, cheese, meats, vegetables, giant lobsters and their famous samosas are all available and you won’t find better quality anywhere else.


Photos by Kenton Doupe

Saskatoon Farmers’ Market (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan)

“Make it, Bake it, or Grow it and Sell it” is the motto of the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market, and highlights their commitment to giving their consumers close, personal contact with the people who make their food.

Situated in a renovated electrical garage that links to the Market Square, the space allows for both interior and outdoor market spaces where you can find buskers, face painters and tons of other entertainment. 

Food safety is in your hands

By Matt Houston

Every year, a total of about 4 million (or 1 in 8) Canadians are affected by food-borne illnesses. It’s a pretty high number, and reflects the fact that most of us have had a run-in with food poisoning at some point in our lives. It’s never a good time. A night spent moaning in the bathroom is never pleasant, and it can ruin your interest in the offending food for you for a long time. I know personally that if I ever got food poisoning from pizza, I'd wonder about how to go on in a cruel world where the sight of a sweet pizza pie makes me nauseous.

Luckily for us all, there is plenty of information around for how to avoid food borne illnesses. Most of tips are simple, involving proper temperature regulation and knowledge of shelf-life for certain foods.

With help from Health Canada’s food safety guidelines, I’ve compiled some excellent tips to keep you and your family safe when handling food in the kitchen:

Defrosting Meat

Usually, the best way to defrost meat is to put it in the fridge and let it thaw over a day or two. But we’ve all had those days when we come home and realize we forgot to take our frozen meat out, and we need it thawed ASAP. There are two safe methods of thawing things quickly: Cold water and the microwave.

Cold water method- Putting your frozen meat in a tub or sink full of cold water will thaw the meat quickly, without heating it to the point where the harmful bacteria inside activate.

Microwave method- Thawing in the microwave is the quickest option available. The usual rule is to use the defrost setting and to allow for seven to eight minutes per pound, and to cook it immediately once thawed. The cooking process will eliminate any harmful bacteria that may have activated. The only downside is that depending on the thickness of the meat, you may end up with the edges being cooked while the inside is still frozen, which can give you some odd textures when you eat.

Tools of the trade

Always be sure to use separate tools for vegetables and meats. This is especially important for things like cutting boards, tongs and knives. Anything that touches raw food should be properly sanitized before being used again.

Cooking temperatures

The best way to know if your food is cooked properly and to the rareness you enjoy is by using a digital food thermometer. Health Canada has a handy guide for internal cooking temperatures here. A thermometer lets you check the doneness without cutting into the meat, allowing you to keep it as juicy as possible.

Once it’s cooked, make sure to keep your food hot until you are ready to eat it, so nasty bacteria can’t start to grow.

Storing leftovers

Leftover.jpg

Whenever you have leftovers, be sure to package them properly in an airtight container and refrigerate them as soon as possible. As a rule, you want your food to be in the fridge within two hours of cooking, and you want to be eating them within three to four days. If you won’t be eating them within that time frame, make sure you freeze it.

Scrub and wash your melons

While melons don’t naturally contain harmful bacteria, it is possible that their outer skin can become contaminated during the growing, storing and transportation processes. Cantaloupe is at the greatest risk because its rind is “netted” and can trap bacteria. Therefore, it’s important to wash and scrub the outside of the melon before cutting into it.

Handling Egg safely

Hey movie buffs: Remember in Rocky when he drank all those raw eggs? Well he’s pretty lucky that the next scene in didn’t show him being violently ill. Raw eggs can contain harmful bacteria, and it’s important that they reach an internal temperature of 74 degrees to ensure they are safe to eat. That’s why it’s also important to wash your hands and anything the raw eggs come into contact with thoroughly.

When using eggs for food that isn’t going to be heated, be sure to use pasteurized egg products instead of raw eggs themselves.

Be sure to share these tips with family and friends. And remember, food safety is in your hands!

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Matt Houston is a Communications Officer at the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. 

Harvesting Data from Space

What satellites are telling us about our land

The Crop Inventory Map captures changes in agricultural land expansion and contraction (often due to urban expansion), as well as production trends. This map shows the significant spread of soybeans across Manitoba and the Prairies.

The Crop Inventory Map captures changes in agricultural land expansion and contraction (often due to urban expansion), as well as production trends. This map shows the significant spread of soybeans across Manitoba and the Prairies.

By Jessica Goodfellow

Through combining satellite imagery and field data, a wealth of information and possibilities emerge. Satellites orbiting the Earth can help assess plant health, soil moisture levels, and even help predict crop yields. 

Leander Campbell, a Remote Sensing Analyst with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, is part of a five-person team of geomatics specialists that produces a yearly Crop Inventory Map, among other products. The map, which shows what crops are grown in virtually every field across Canada, has consistently been a top download on the Government of Canada Open Data website and has been used by governments, NGOs, and conservation groups alike.  

“To make policies and programs more effective, you need to have good quality information to base those on,” Campbell explains. “When you do these maps year after year, you can start to look at agriculture temporally so you can see how it’s changing or evolving. You begin to see trends, and can analyze the where and whys.” 

We sat down with Campbell to ask him more about his work and this exciting, innovative branch of agriculture.

Photo courtesy of Leander Campbell Leander Campbell is part of a team of geomatics specialists that produce a yearly Crop Inventory Map, as well as other products.

Photo courtesy of Leander Campbell

Leander Campbell is part of a team of geomatics specialists that produce a yearly Crop Inventory Map, as well as other products.

Q: What does the work of a ‘satellite image tracker’ involve? Can you take us through the process?

A: I do a lot of imagery work, so I plan the satellite acquisitions. The satellite observations are confirmed using provincial crop insurance data, but in some provinces where crop insurance information isn’t available, we have to travel ourselves to get the information. We have a GPS enabled tablet and so we drive by and we mark down what’s growing in each field. It’s an interesting and long process! We integrate the data and are constantly doing quality control checks of the various stages in the process. For me, it’s the perfect blend – doing what I love, in an area I’m interested in.

Q: How have you seen the technology evolve?

A: With the rise of big data, there has been a confluence of better technology. There are more satellites going up. The more satellites that go up, the more competition there is which reduces the price of satellite imagery, making it more accessible. Computer speed and processing times are much quicker now, versus 5 or 10 years ago. With more satellites, we now have even more data to use. Hopefully, more powerful computers will come along that will make it easier to process all this data. It’s constantly evolving. It’s been fascinating so far, and the next few years will be really interesting.

Q: You mention that your team also produces a weekly map that assesses plant health across Canada. How exactly does satellite imagery read plant health?

A: The satellite we use for this is an optical satellite, which is what you’d mostly be familiar with if you’ve ever looked at Google Earth. They collect visible light - red, blue, greens – but they also have a sensor that collects infrared information. That’s important to agriculture because crops reflect infrared information. A plant reflects even more infrared light when the chlorophyll is flowing strong. When the plant is affected by drought, disease or pests, it’s not producing as much chlorophyll, therefore it’s not reflecting as much of the infrared.

Q: There are also maps produced that display soil moisture. How does that work?

A: Another group that works with us is the National Agro-Climate Information Service, and they create a weekly map of the moisture content of the soil. They use microwave based imagery, so they’re looking beyond infrared. You can calculate what the moisture content is of the soil by assessing how much microwave energy passes through it.

Provided by Earth Observation, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. An example of the changes in soil moisture levels over time across Canada.

Provided by Earth Observation, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

An example of the changes in soil moisture levels over time across Canada.

Q: What role does or could this data play in analyzing the effects evolving weather patterns?

A: One of the things that we map every year is a class called ‘Too Wet to Seed’. For example, in 2011 when they had the Red River Flooding out in Manitoba, we were able to tell which fields were too wet to produce crop that year due to the moisture content of the soil. It gives you a picture of how many acres were affected. When you can actually see it, it starts to hit home. Our maps, coupled with other data streams, can start to show which areas that will be affected by severe weather events more often. And even now, we’re considering mapping in the Yukon because we’d like to get on board with that sooner than later. Warmer weather and better plant genomics are expanding production. If the climate continues to evolve and change, then you might see farmers step away from certain crops and into other crops, so that will show in our maps as well.

Q: You spend much of your summers driving across Canada, collecting data. What did you find most interesting about Canadian agriculture?

A: Overall, just the diversity of it. It wasn’t something I realized growing up in Ontario where corn, soy, wheat were the three big commodities. It’s just amazing how in you can see so much diversity in just a little area. North shore Lake Erie, for example, is just wild with various fruits and vegetables, and you have tobacco and ginseng growing there as well.

Photos courtesy of Leander Campbell

Q: What about this technology sets Canada apart?

A: There’s a joint project between Statistics Canada and AAFC.  The idea is that you can use the satellite information, meteorological data, and historical data of crop yields and weather patterns to estimate crop yields for that particular year. We’re the first nation to operationalize the data in this way.

Q: What advances are in store for the team/ what areas are you looking to develop?

A: Everything! We’re constantly trying to evolve – to make it a better product, a more accurate product, to get our maps out quicker because it’s a lot of data that we’re processing. Another thing we’re trying to do is to create a better end product for people. If you’re not familiar with the system, it is a little cumbersome to use. Always listening to the public seeing where we’re doing things right, and where we can improve.


Jessica has worked in communications with international and domestic agricultural organizations over the past 11 years, including the Canadian Federation Agriculture and the International Federation of Agricultural Producers. Currently, Jessica is completing her studies in nutrition and has launched LEAP PROJECTS to help bring creative communication services to non-profit organizations. 

Farmers create new habitats for bees, butterflies and other pollinators

By the Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Next time you pass an apple orchard, or a strawberry patch, look closely and you may see some of the hardest workers in field — of course you’d have to look VERY closely, since pollinating insects like bees and butterflies are hard to spot from a distance. But you can bet that farmers keep a close on these critters, since they understand the vital role they play in growing a bountiful crop. 

Take for example Ontario farmers Marc and Chantal Bercier — winners of the 2016 Canadian Farmer-Rancher Pollinator Conservation Award. They recently revitalized a wetland on their farm to conserve water quality and, as part of this work, they created a new pollinator habitat.  

“For me, it’s very important to farm with a vision of how future generations will benefit from agriculture. I am always thinking about how to improve our operation so that I can pass my knowledge and experience on to younger people that are interested in starting a business in farming,” said Marc Bercier.

The Berciers wanted to support the biodiversity on their farm so they planted a variety of trees, shrubs and native flowers. These species provide food for a variety of wild species, including pollinators such as flies, bats, moths, birds and more. The Berciers have created many pollinator sites around their farm and quality pollen sources throughout the spring, summer and fall. The sites are populated with over 30 different species of plants and flowers.  The project received funding from Alternative Land-Use Canada (ALUS Canada).

Conservation award winner Marc Bercier stands near the reinvigourated area of his farm, which supports pollinating insects and the overall environmental objectives of his business.

Conservation award winner Marc Bercier stands near the reinvigourated area of his farm, which supports pollinating insects and the overall environmental objectives of his business.

What’s happening with the bee population and climate change?

The Earth’s climate is a series of complicated systems, all intertwined and dependent on one another. A change in one system can lead to a multitude of changes in others that are almost impossible to predict or plan for. A prime example of this is the relationship between climate, honeybees and the plants they pollinate.

The bee population has been very volatile recently, seeing sharp drops in the last few years and rebounding in Canada more recently. No one can give a definite reason for either the losses or the new recovery. Some level the blame at neonicotinoids, a pesticide that is sprayed on crops, while others look to habitat loss or changing weather patterns. While no definitive answer can be found, experts say that a combination of factors that have led to the changes in bee populations.

Recent studies have found that bees are affected greatly by climate change, due to the symbiotic relationship they have with their food sources. The plants that provide nectar and food for bees use these insects to spread their pollen, which allows the plants to breed.

But some researchers are worried that climate change is creating an environment where these organisms are no longer in sync with one another, hurting both bees and the plants they pollinate.

Bee and flower2.jpg

“Some species of pollinators have co-evolved with one species of plant,” said Wayne Esaias in an interview with NASA’s Earth Observatory. He is a biological oceanographer who has been raising bees since 1990.

“The two species time their cycles to coincide, for example, insects maturing from larva to adult precisely when nectar flows begin,”

But if the cues that signal the insects or plants to mature are disrupted, it can lead to dangerous consequences. As an example, Esaias points to how a single cold night at the wrong time can set a bee colony back weeks.

“What limits the growth of my honeybees in the spring are those coldest of the cold nights, because what is happening in their colony is that they are in a cluster, and they have to keep the queen and the larvae at 34 degrees. They do that by eating lots of honey, and tensing their muscles, and generating heat.” Once it becomes warm enough outside to maintain a temperature of 34 degrees, the bees begin to lay eggs around the cluster, and the cluster expands. Without any interruptions, larva will grow into full grown bees in about 3 weeks. However, if there is a night where it become too cold to maintain the temperature, the eggs on the outside of the cluster will die and the colony must start the process over again. If the plants that these bees are synchronized with are not similarly delayed, the growth of this new generation of bees will no longer coincide the beginning of nectar production.

Jeremy Kerr, a professor at the University of Ottawa and author of the study Climate change impacts on bumblebees converge across continents, posits that climate change is disrupting the areas that are habitable for bees in terms of temperature, and the pollinators can’t keep up.

“They just aren’t colonizing new areas and establishing new populations fast enough to track rapid human-caused climate change,” he said on a call with journalists.

While other pollinators have simply migrated further north, Kerr found that bees at the north end of their habitable zones have failed to move, while many populations in the more southern areas have simply died. In total, bees have lost a range of up to nearly 200 miles in North America and Europe. While the study evaluated land use changes and pesticide application in addition to weather conditions, it attributed the drop in population to climate change.

While they can’t control the weather, one way in which farmers are helping the bee population is by creating more pollinator habitats at their farms, giving bees more food sources and allowing them to propagate and sustain their hives.

One thing is for certain, our climate is changing and beekeeping and agriculture are evolving with it.

Canadian farm families grow crops to send to families in need

By Amanda Thorsteinsson, Canadian Foodgrains Bank

As part of a growing project in Killarney, Manitoba 17 farmers brought out combines to help harvest 140 acres of canola for distribution to those in need worldwide.

As part of a growing project in Killarney, Manitoba 17 farmers brought out combines to help harvest 140 acres of canola for distribution to those in need worldwide.

The crops grown on Canadian farms already help feed the world, but some Canadian farmers go the extra mile, giving their time, equipment and resources toward making a difference in the fight against global hunger. 

From British Columbia to the Maritimes, about 250 groups of farmers come together to grow a crop each year. After the crop is harvested, it’s sold on the Canadian market, and the proceeds are donated to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, where it is used to help in the fight against global hunger.

The Foodgrains Bank is a partnership of 15 Canadian church and church agencies working together to end hunger by responding to emergency food needs in times of war, drought, or other emergency; helping people increase their access to food in the longer term by helping them grow more food; and by supporting nutrition programs focused on mothers and young children. 

In January, the Foodgrains Bank committed three projects totaling $900,000. 

One project, through Foodgrains Bank member Canadian Baptist Ministries (CBM) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is working with families in South Kivu Province, an area that has suffered from civil war and widespread hunger. 

Most families in this area rely on what they can grow on very small pieces of land to support themselves and their families through the year. However, this is often challenging, and many families go through a hunger season each year while they wait for their crops to mature.

The terrain of the project area is both mountainous and swampy, and a recent landslide degraded much of the soil, making it even more difficult for families to grow enough food.

Unable to survive off their land, men have been forced to leave their families behind in search of work in the city and in mines, leaving the bulk of the work of growing food to women.

In response, CBM, through their local Congolese partner Communauté Baptiste au Centre de l’Afrique, is providing agricultural training to 400 farm families (about 2,800 people), particularly female or child-headed families, families affected by HIV/AIDS, and families returning home after being displaced by conflict. 

The project, worth $99,000, is introducing conservation agriculture, distributing quality seed, and helping farmers improve the quality of their soil. 

Camels are herded across the dry and dusty landscape of Ethiopia’s remote northern Afar region. Many people in this region raise camels as part of their livelihoods.

Camels are herded across the dry and dusty landscape of Ethiopia’s remote northern Afar region. Many people in this region raise camels as part of their livelihoods.

Another project, through Foodgrains Bank member Canadian Lutheran World Relief (CLWR), is responding to the needs of people in the Afar region of Ethiopia continually affected by a prolonged failure of seasonal rains.

The lack of rain is degrading the land and making it difficult for people to earn a livelihood. 

In response, Foodgrains Bank member CLWR, through Support for Sustainable Development, is supporting community members in building a permanent, sustainable irrigation system to divert water from a local river for use in growing crops.

One member of each participating household is receiving food in return for their labour on the project, and households are also receiving sustainable agriculture training. The project total is $513,000.

Pictured here is the Muhammed family, in the Afar region of Ethiopia. Through CFB member Canadian Lutheran World Relief and programmed locally by Ethiopian organization Support for Sustainable Development, they are learning to diversify their traditional pastoral livelihood of livestock raising to include growing cereal crops, fruits, and vegetables through irrigation. The Afar is a remote and arid northern part of Ethiopia.

Pictured here is the Muhammed family, in the Afar region of Ethiopia. Through CFB member Canadian Lutheran World Relief and programmed locally by Ethiopian organization Support for Sustainable Development, they are learning to diversify their traditional pastoral livelihood of livestock raising to include growing cereal crops, fruits, and vegetables through irrigation. The Afar is a remote and arid northern part of Ethiopia.

In Laos, Mennonite Central Committee Canada is helping communities in Tha Thom district improve their food security through training in natural resource management, promoting increased and diversified household food production, and improving the capacity of communities to plan and manage their own development.  5,000 people are benefitting and the project is worth $327,000.

Projects supported by Canadian Foodgrains Bank are undertaken with support from the Government of Canada.

To learn more about the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and its projects or to find out how you can get involved, visit www.foodgrainsbank.ca

 

The story behind your grocery bill

By the Canadian Federation of Agriculture

The annual Food Price Report from the Food Institute at the University of Guelph is forecasting that food prices across the country will increase by 2.0% to 4.0% in 2016. What does this mean for the Canadian consumer?

Every year, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture calculates the calendar date when the average Canadian has earned enough income to pay for his/her grocery bill for the year, known as “Food Freedom Day”. Because of rising food costs, this year’s Food Freedom Day falls on February 9, three days after last year’s date. In 2015, Canadians are expected to have spent 11% of their disposable income on food, compared to 10.4% the previous year. While the increase is certainly felt, it’s important to realize that relative to populations around the world, we are quite lucky here in Canada. Canadians enjoy one of the lowest food costs in the world, consistently ranking in the top five for cheapest food costs world-wide.

Still, the rise in food costs has the potential to affect your day-to-day life and budget. Some questions may come to mind. What are the reasons behind these rising food costs? What are some tips to reducing my food bill?

Source: Food Price Report, The Food Institute of the University of Guelph

Source: Food Price Report, The Food Institute of the University of Guelph

Factors contributing to higher
food costs

The Food Institute at the University of Guelph conducted a comprehensive study on Canadian food prices, culminating in the Food Price Report 2016. The data indicated that in 2015, food prices rose by 4.1%. The prime reason was the low Canadian dollar. This had profound effects on food products, particularly imported products like fruits, vegetables and nuts as these products are much more susceptible to market fluctuations. The higher cost maintained throughout the year was partly due, the report notes, to the drought in California, adding to the difficulty in sourcing these products. Because of the Canadian climate and limitations around available growing seasons, we are dependent on imports for certain products. 

Source: Food Price Report, The Food Institute of the University of Guelph

Source: Food Price Report, The Food Institute of the University of Guelph

Looking at in 2016, The Food Price Report outlined its forecast and noted that food prices would be most affected by “El Nino’s impact on climate, the lowering Canadian dollar, and important consumer trends.”  As any farmer knows, climate and weather patterns could make or break a years’ harvest or production.  The report maintained that “[c]limate change will remain one of the most significant, unpredictable influences on food prices.” Moreover, the Canadian dollar is expected to further devalue. The report points out that“[for] every cent drop in the dollar over a short period of time, currency exposed food categories like vegetable, fruits and nuts are likely to increase by more than 1%.” 

And of course, consumer trends affect food prices. The report astutely points out that, “Since food is in the public eye, the curiosity of consumers has now moved up the food chain of the industry, probing into the practices of processing plants and farms” andthat “[t]his collective awakening of the foodie within us is compelling industry to address consumers’ concerns.”

President of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Ron Bonnett, explains his experience with this reality. “As a farmer myself, I am definitely aware of the affect consumer choices and preferences have on my farm and, of course, the broader food sector. Your grocery store purchases are market data for retailers who will then determine what they will stock their shelves with. The ripple effect is felt right down to the farm level.”

“Make your grocery store ‘vote’ count. There are plenty of reasons why we encourage consumers to buy Canadian. We are lucky to have the variety of food products year round and because of our climate, we require imported food products. However, when you have the choice, choose Canadian. Domestically produced food does not face the same exchange rate increase we have been seeing. There are Canadian products available year round. By understanding what’s available in Canada in every season, you can contribute to Canadian food security and also keep your food bill down.”

Rene Van Acker, Associate Dean at the University of Guelph, echoed this statement. “Farmers have always responded to the market and adjusted their operations accordingly. The primary impact of consumer choices will be through the market,” he said.

“We also know there is a difference in the Canadian brand when it comes to animal welfare standards and the quality and safety of our products, and it’s one to be proud of. We ask that consumers place their ‘grocery store vote’ for Canadian farmers and invest in a stable domestic food supply.”

Understandably, costs play a huge part in the choices we make as consumers. That’s why we’ve put together a few tips to help you eat healthy and affordably.

Dealing with higher food costs

The take-away message

Food costs are expected to remain high throughout 2016. It is important to note that Canadians still enjoy some of the cheapest food costs world-wide, and this price increase does not trickle down to the farmer level – or even the Canadian food chain. 

iStock_farmerinfield_Medium.jpg

While higher food costs can put stress on the budgets of families, following some of the tips will help in eating nutritiously and affordably. The importance of building a strong domestic food system and ensuring Canada’s food security is evident now more than ever. Choosing Canadian products at the grocery store is an incredibly important role Canadian consumers have in supporting farmers and our food system here at home. In season and domestically produced food is also often more cost-effective as it does not face the same exchange rate increase and volatility. Canadian standards on animal welfare and food safety are held in high regard worldwide – there is a difference in the Canadian brand. The Canadian agricultural community has been responsive on many fronts. The commitment from farmers across Canada is to listen to Canadians and maintain transparency.


  • Reduce at-home food waste. Did you know that over 50% of food waste occurs at home? Reducing food waste can go a long way in lowering your food costs. Here are some tips:

›  Freeze, preserve, or can surplus fruits and vegetables - especially abundant seasonal produce
›  Many fruits give off natural gases as they ripen, making other nearby produce spoil        
   faster. Separate ripening produce when you store them
› Prepare and cook perishable items, then freeze them for use throughout the month.
› Shop in your refrigerator first!  Casseroles, stir-fries, omelettes, soups, and smoothies are great ways to use leftovers or food products that are beginning to wilt.

  • Buy local, Canadian. Consider buying at the farm gate, find out where farm markets are, and check the local supermarket for Canadian products.  
  • Seek out in-season foods. Get to know what local produce is available each season in your area. Then stock up on seasonal produce and freeze portions to use during other times of the year.
  • Plan! Before heading out to the grocery store, prepare a weekly meal plan to help avoid too many impulse purchases, which will also help cut down on your amount of food waste.
  • Consider frozen options. During the winter months, when food costs tend to spike because of imports, check out the options your grocery store has for frozen fruits and vegetables.


Gift Ideas for the Agriculture & Food lover in your life!

As the holidays approach and you work to  find unique gifts for those on your list, here are some ideas to help you along the way!   

*The items mentioned in this article are not paid endorsements or advertisements. They are simply ideas, from us to you!

agriculturemorethanever.ca

agriculturemorethanever.ca

The Ag More Than Ever Online Shop

Know family or friends that are proud to farm or proud to support Canadian agriculture? They would probably be thrilled to show their pride on their sweater, hat, or coffee mug! The AMTE shop offers a variety of attractive options that the farm and food supporters are sure to love!

selectnovascotia.ca, amazon.ca

selectnovascotia.ca, amazon.ca

Local Pride

More and more, regions are coming out with creative ways to encourage buying local and Canadian. Check around your area - there's sure to be merchandise or events that are supporting the buy local, buy Canadian movement. Perhaps a gift certificate to a restaurant that sources local products? Maybe Canadian farmers and chefs is your area have released a cookbook? Or maybe a food show is coming to town? In Nova Scotia, you can even purchase a license plate encouraging support for the province's agriculture and seafood industry. All proceeds go towards supporting local farmers! A potential gift idea for your partner?

Canada Agriculture and Food Museum Shop  

For kids or adults alike, visit the museum's online store for some under the tree inspiration! 

http://cafmuseum.techno-science.ca/en/

http://cafmuseum.techno-science.ca/en/

Subscription to Ag Magazines

Everyone loves getting mail! With a variety of quality agriculture and food related magazines, there's an option for every interest. Take your pick from Glacier Farm Media selection or many others!    

Canada Agriculture and Food Museum Shop  

For kids or adults alike, visit the museum's online store for some under the tree inspiration! 

Local Pride

More and more, regions are coming out with creative ways to encourage buying local and Canadian. Check around your area - there's sure to be merchandise or events that are supporting the buy local, buy Canadian movement. Perhaps a gift certificate to a restaurant that sources local products? Maybe Canadian farmers and chefs is your area have released a cookbook? Or maybe a food show is coming to town? In Nova Scotia, you can even purchase a license plate encouraging support for the province's agriculture and seafood industry. All proceeds go towards supporting local farmers! A potential gift idea for your partner?

Community Share Agriculture

Gift the food lovers in your life a gift certificate to your favourite local farm. There are many farms that offer online ordering and delivery services or sell at your local farmers' markets. In the Ottawa area, there's the well-loved Bearbrook Farm for example. Pair the gift certificate with a tested, tried and true recipe! 

DIY Food Gifts

These are fun and much appreciated by the receiver during the holidays when time is short and visitors many! Some ideas here and here and here

Photos from: countryliving.com, thefromagette.com, bbcgoodfood.com

Photos from: countryliving.com, thefromagette.com, bbcgoodfood.com