A Canadian Rancher’s Take on Earls’ Beef Campaign

Adrienne Ivey is a Canadian rancher, blogger, and mother. This post originally appeared on her blog The View from the Ranch Porch

Earls Kitchen and Bar has set the Canadian farming world all a-twitter.  The restaurant chain has recently launched a new marketing campaign promoting their latest development in beef  — “Certified Humane” raised without the use of antibiotics or added hormones and steroids.

I don’t (didn’t) mind Earls as a dining option. Up until now, they sourced their beef for their 56 Canadian restaurants here, in Canada. They have great summertime patios, and they make fantastic Caesars. Their head office is in Vancouver, and their first ever location was started in 1982 in Edmonton, Alberta. Sounds good, right? Then suddenly their marketing took a turn that just doesn’t sit right with me.

EArl's ad

Earls Restaurant’s marketing campaign

Their first words of their sourcing strategy label their beef as “Certified Humane,” which struck immediate warning bells for me. As a beef producer, I have had the opportunity to visit and tour MANY cattle farms. I can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the vast majority of Canadian Beef farms and ranches are raising their cattle in a humane way.

We are ranchers for a reason. We like working with animals every day. I have no issue with weeding out the “bad apples” that are bound to turn up in any industry, but these bad farmers are so uncommon, I cannot imagine the need to base your entire purchasing decision around them. I visited the label’s website and most specifically their producer page. On the page directed towards the farmers who would use their certification process, there was zero information on what they considered “humane”, zero mention of how becoming certified humane would benefit a farmer’s animals, zero mention of ways to make a farm more humane for its animals.

So what was the producer page for? Sales. It was touted as a way to sell more product. End of story. Andrew Campbell wrote an article for Real Agriculture about what exactly certified humane means… not much. To top this one off, Canada already has steps to make sure our animals are raised humanely. The Canadian Beef Code of Practices is something each and every one of us take pride in, something we follow because it is the right thing to do, not because we get paid more money for it.

So there’s that. I moved on a few words to “without the use of antibiotics”. This is perhaps the most terrifying marketing catch phrase in my mind. Why? Because this directly impacts animal welfare. I fully believe that healthy animals begin with prevention. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is completely true. The problem is that all sickness cannot be eradicated with prevention alone. Just like people, animals get sick sometimes — it’s a fact of life.

Finally, to the point of “no added hormones or steroids”. This I have spoken about many times. With the use of proven  safe methods, including hormones, Canadian farmers are now able produce MORE beef (32% more), while using significantly fewer resources (24% less land and 29% less breeding stock), and creating a significantly SMALLER environmental footprint (producing 15% less greenhouse gasses). I wrote about this HERE. Can we produce beef without hormone implants? Sure. But why choose to do less with more if it is a proven, safe, efficient method? To learn more about hormone use in beef read here or here.

To read the rest of this blog entry, which includes a discussion on Earls sourcing beef from outside of the country, click here.

Guest Blog: What a Dietetic Intern Learned at a Farm Conference

By Anna Van Osch, Dietetic Intern, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

Last week, I had the privilege of attending Farm & Food Care Ontario’s Annual Conference and Speaker series. Like everyone else in the room, I was there to learn more about the state of our food system, how to sustain it and what can be done to ensure consumer trust in it. Unlike most people in the audience though, I am not a farmer and have no direct link to the agriculture sector. I am a dietetic intern, working to gain experience so I can write my exam to become a registered dietitian (RD). I usually spend my days in hospitals, with family health teams or other healthcare facilities, so being surrounded by food producers was a change of scenery.

Michael Von MassowDr. Michael von Massow (pictured), with the University of Guelph, quickly made me realize why I was there.

Whether a producer, consumer or somewhere in-between, we all make choices every day that impact our food system. As consumers we have started paying more attention to our food system and asking tougher questions about how the food on our plates is produced.

Interacting with patients (a.k.a. food consumers) on a daily basis I get asked questions like: What’s the difference between conventional, organic and grass fed dairy; what effect will GMO foods or steroids have on my kids; and, why should I buy local?

There is a knowledge gap that exists regarding how we think food is produced and how food is actually produced. Sitting in a room full of farmers whose livelihood depends on having the most up to date knowledge and intimate understanding of farming practises, it may be hard to fathom that millions of Canadians don’t truly understand how their dinner makes it from the field to their fork.

Neither party is at fault for the miscommunication, rather it is a misunderstanding borne of different experiences. Farmers are experts in their field and therefore while they are trying to detail the benefits of antibiotic use in their livestock, some consumers don’t even know what that chicken’s life on the farm actually looks like.  As von Massow said “we’re trying to have a nuanced discussion… we have to start with the basics.”

Be it social media, activist groups, or friends, being aware of where consumers are getting their information can help producers to effectively share their knowledge. Von Massow encouraged producers to look for opportunities to engage with consumers and build a positive relationship so consumers feel comfortable coming to the experts (farmers!) when they have questions. Rather than an “us” and “them” mentality, we have to look for opportunities to engage with the other and listen to their concerns. At this point, I wanted to tell everyone in the room to “talk with me!”

The food production questions RDs are asked every day show that consumers are looking for information about their food system. The danger of the knowledge gap is that even without all the information, consumers can still form opinions. RDs are already providing evidence-based information about the health effects of food. So why not make all our jobs easier by providing RDs with the correct information about farming practises, so we can confidently answer questions about how food production methods impact our health? As von Massow said “a conversation can’t be two monologues,” so let’s close that knowledge gap by opening up the conversation between consumers, producers, and RDs, too.

Earth Day is Every Day on Canadian Farms

Since 1970, we’ve been celebrating Earth Day (the largest environmental event in the world) annually on April 22. But on Canadian farms, farmers celebrate Earth Day each and every day.

Farmers understand the importance of healthy soil, water and air. They live on farms with their families and they depend on the environment to create a healthy place to live, as well as the right conditions to grow crops and raise livestock. Farmers want to leave their farms in better shape for their kids than when they started farming.

Urban growth also continues at a staggering pace – with housing developments being constructed on once productive farm land near urban centres – which is another reason that farmers must protect, preserve and nurture their valuable farmland.

Here’s some of the ways that farmers strive towards protecting their farmland and creating a cleaner environment for generations to come.  

ED - Soil HealthSoil health – sustainability

  • Our very existence on this planet is dependent on a few inches of topsoil. Over two thirds of farmers use conservation tilling practices to help preserve that precious resource.
  • When people talk about ‘bringing soils to life,’ they literally mean increasing the amount of living creatures in the soil. You can measure this by counting earthworm holes in a square foot. Another way is to bury a piece of 100% cotton in the top layer of the soil to measure levels of decomposition after a few weeks or months. You can actually see how the microbiological activity turns last year’s plant stalks into smaller organic partials that build soil and bind carbon, reducing the impacts of climate change.
  • Greenhouse gases are a concern to agriculture as they are to society as a whole but farmers can actually sequester carbon in the soil as they build organic matter through good soil management. This is good for the soil and good for the planet because it reduces atmospheric CO2.  Farmers can help reduce emissions and transform atmospheric carbon dioxide into soil organic matter – and ensuring a sustainable food supply despite a changing climate. The carbon sequestered (saved in the soil) due to conservation tillage in Ontario alone equals 600 kilotons/year. That’s equivalent to taking 125,000 cars off the road each year.

Environmental training for farmers

  • In all provinces across Canada, an educational initiative called the Environmental Farm Plan is helping farmers assess their farms for environmental concerns and set goals and timetables for improvements. In Prince Edward Island, for example, 90 percent of farmers have completed an Environmental Farm Plan and in Ontario, about 70 percent of farmers have participated and invested over $600 million into on-farm environmental improvements over the last 20 years.

Did you know Conservation TillageTillage

  • Tillage is an age-old practice and refers to plowing or working up the soil, something that’s done mostly to control weeds. Many farmers in Canada have adopted “conservation or minimal tillage” or “no-till” practices. This means that crops are grown with minimal or no cultivation of the soil. Any plant materials remaining from the previous year’s crop, like corn stubble, is left on the soil building up its organic matter.  Minimal or no-till practices also help maintain populations of beneficial insects and soil and nutrients are less likely to be lost from the field.
  • Farmers also strive to prevent soil erosion caused by wind or water. One of the ways they do this is by planting cover crops to prevent soil erosion. Cover crops can do exactly what their name implies; cover the soil during the rest of the season before or after the main crop has been grown. Cover crops may be planted over a whole field for erosion protection, or they may be selectively planted in the most erosion prone areas. Cover crops are not harvested and cost money to plant, but their benefit comes from improving the soil quality and preventing erosion.

 

Water

  • Farmers rely on water for their crops and livestock to flourish. Most, 91.5 per cent to be exact – rely solely on precipitation for watering crops. Irrigation is used on higher quality crops like berries, fruits and vegetables that are for direct human consumption.
  • In Canada, only 8.5 per cent of farms use any form of irrigation. The remaining 91.5 per cent of farms rely solely on precipitation for crop watering. Irrigation is used on higher quality crops like berries, apples, tender fruits and vegetables that are for direct human consumption.

 

Natural environment

  • Work is ongoing across Canada preserving hundreds of thousands of acres of land that are inhabited by wildlife – whether that be forests, swamps and other natural spaces that are also part of a farmer’s property. Many farmers have also created, improved or expanded farm forests, ponds and river edges.

 

These are just a few of the environmental initiatives taking place on farms across this country. Today, farmers across Canada are pleased to join with their fellow Canadians to celebrate this special day.

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

 

Guest Blog: Biotech Benefits for the Environment and You, Too

By Bob Bartley, grain farmer based at Roland, Manitoba.

I have been a farmer for 40 plus years and I have grown genetically enhanced (GE) crops since 1996. We grow corn, soybeans and canola, all of which are GE as well as other crops which are not. I have seen many benefits to this technology through the years, but what is in it for the consumer?

IMG_2241I really don’t consider the crops I grow to be ready-to-eat food, like apples, carrots or potatoes, but more like ingredients to make food products such as margarine, flour and feed for livestock. Government regulators and scientists have questioned the safety of GE crops right from the beginning. As a result, these crops have undergone testing far beyond that required for other new varieties. There have been about 2,000 published studies on GE crop safety, I’m told. The results say that the GE crops now grown are as safe as any others. Some reports say even safer. There have also been several studies showing that they reduce food prices too-a direct result of the higher farm yields. GE crops are one reason why North American consumers have the safest, highest quality and most affordable food in the world.

The adoption of higher yielding GE crops has allowed farmers to grow more without using additional land.  Every day, cities grow larger on some of the most productive soils in the world. Every day the world’s population increases. Farmers are tasked to produce more food on fewer acres and it’s not something we can do on our own.  Farmers need the help of innovative plant breeding tools to increase the capability of the crops we grow – innovations that increase production and allow our harvests to be used in many different ways to provide food for you and me.

The adoption of higher yielding GE crops has allowed farmers to grow more without using additional land.  Every day, cities grow larger on some of the most productive soils in the world

The discovery of the herbicide glyphosate and glyphosate-tolerant crops changed agriculture. They have allowed farmers to control perennial weeds in crops instead of depending on summer-fallowing, which requires no crop to be produced for an entire year.  Also, with the new technology, the crop stubble remaining after grain harvest is undisturbed and this allows for more moisture retention and reduced soil erosion due to wind and water. There is less fuel used on the farm because of the reduced soil tillage.

Bob BartleyInsects have always been a threat to our crops and thus to our livelihood. The Bt gene in the corn we grow, gives the crop resistance to the European corn borer. In earlier years, we used insecticides to kill the borer but they also killed beneficial insects such as lady bugs. Bt is pest specific and only kills the corn borer. Insecticide is not applied now which saves another trip across the field.

Farmers have always been stewards of the land using the tools available to them.  We strive to leave our land with the same or increased production capability compared to when we started farming. Carbon sequestering in farm soils, through no-till and reduced tillage, results in a reduction of green house gas (CO2) levels in the atmosphere.

What’s in it for the consumer? Society’s buying habits have leaned towards being environmentally friendly and sustainable. So here it is!  Better air and water quality due to reduced erosion and reduced tillage. Fewer pesticides applied and less fossil fuel consumption resulting in lower greenhouse gases. Drought-resistant crops that produce with more efficient use of water. Protection of beneficial insects. It turns out that what’s good for me as a farmer is also good for you the consumer.  Some call that win-win.

This post first appeared in the Financial Post, April 13, 2016, and is used with permission. 

Blogger Spotlight: Adrienne Ivey’s View From the Ranch Porch

We’re putting the spotlight on Canadian farmer bloggers. Each month, we feature a different farmer blogger to uncover a bit about life behind the blog and on their family farm.

Adrienne IveyMeet Adrienne Ivey of Evergreen Cattle Co., located near Ituna, Saskatchewan. She blogs at www.viewfromtheranchporch.wordpress.com. You can also find her on Twitter @adrienneivey and Instagram @aderivey

Here’s what Adrienne had to say about blogging and her family’s farm in our Q and A.

RealDirt: When and why did you start blogging?

Adrienne: Growing up on a grain farm in northeast Saskatchewan, and now owning and operating a cattle ranch have helped me to see that I love all parts of agriculture — from canola to cattle. I started blogging about a year ago to share my passion for all things ag with those not fortunate enough to live this life. Although I had been sharing my story frequently on social media, I needed more space! Blogging also helped me share another passion of mine: amateur photography. Life on the ranch is beautiful, and I love being able to share that beauty with those not as lucky as myself.

RealDirt: Tell us briefly about your farm.

Adrienne: Our farm consists of an 1,100 pair cow-calf herd, a 1,000 head yearling grasser program, and a 2,500 head feedlot. For all of these animals, we manage over 9,000 acres of land.

Our cattle are intensively grazed, and are out on pasture 365 days per year. Forages are the heart of our operation, in fact we like to say that we are not cattle farmers, we are grass farmers and the cattle are a tool to harvest that grass.

Our cows calve in late spring and early summer. The pairs are moved every few days onto fresh grass through a grazing plan that is set out at the beginning of the year. The calves stay with the cows until around February when they are weaned. After weaning, calves are fed in our feedlot until they can be turned out in early spring. Those calves are grazed as yearlings, or “grassers” for the summer. At fall, they are fed in a feedlot until they reach a finished weight.

Our farm is very much a family operation. Nothing makes me more proud then to be raising two small ranchers. Our children are actively involved in the daily chores of the farm, and even own their own goat herd. We like to say that we do not use our children to raise cattle; we use our cattle to raise better children.

Adrienne Ivey 2RealDirt: What is the biggest misconception about your type of farming?

Adrienne: I think that non-ranching people don’t realize just how well ranchers care for their animals. We lay awake at night thinking of ways to improve our herd health, and create a whole-farm system that keeps every animal both healthy and happy. Ranchers are often portrayed in the media in two ways, as uneducated country bumpkins (dusty cowboy hats and manure-stained boots), or as money-hungry corporate types that have little to do with daily ranch operations. The reality is that ranchers are highly-educated (we have over 12 years of post-secondary education on our ranch alone) business people that choose to get their hands and boots dirty on a daily basis. We truly love working with animals.

RealDirt: What is your greatest achievement thus far?  What are your goals? 

Adrienne: It is really difficult to choose our greatest achievement, because most days just being able to live this life seems like the highest possible achievement. One moment that really stands out was being named 2014 Saskatchewan Outstanding Young Farmers. Saskatchewan is full of really amazing farms and farmers, so being chosen for this award was a huge honour.

Going forward we really only have one goal: to build a ranch that is sustainable both environmentally and economically, while bringing the best and most delicious beef to the marketplace.

RealDirt: What do you love most about farming? What has been the most challenging part of farming for you?

Adrienne: I absolutely love that cattle ranching is the art of combining nature and human will. Our vast grasslands are home to so many species of wildlife and birds. We are fortunate to be able to spend the majority of our days surrounded by that kind of beauty. As ranchers, it is our job to take the power of nature and use it to produce delicious and nutritious food. 

As for challenges in farming, there are too many to count! Cash flow and business planning are a constant juggle. Like many entrepreneurs, we are tied to our farm on a daily basis. Whether it’s Christmas Day or our child’s first birthday, our cattle must be fed, and their daily needs come first. To be a rancher you need to be a jack of all trades: accountant, veterinarian, mechanic, mathematician, animal nutritionist, sales manager, teacher, plant pathologist, and much more. Even though we take every opportunity to learn more about all parts of ranching, sometimes it is overwhelming to try to know everything about it all. 


Adrienne Ivey Family Barn
RealDirt: When you’re not farming and blogging, how do you like to spend your time?

Adrienne: I am a mom first, and a rancher second. I spend the majority of my time off the farm hauling kids to their activities. Most of my winter is spent in a hockey rink or volunteering at the arena’s kitchen. Summers will find me hooked to a horse trailer hauling my daughter and her mare to horse shows. We are fortunate that our ranch life allows us to make horses a part of our lives.

Because we live in a very small rural community, volunteering is a way of life. We like to spend as much time as possible helping out at the local skating and curling rinks, leading 4-H, or being part of the local school or daycare boards. We also feel that it’s our responsibility as farmers to be active in our industry. I like to spend time with organizations such as Farm & Food Care, Agriculture in the Classroom, and most recently I have been acting as a mentor for the Cattlemen’s Young Leaders program.

RealDirt: What is one message you’d like to get across to the general public about what you do?

Adrienne: Ranching is a complex business, and there is no one right way to ranch. Every single cattle ranch is different — from when calves are born, to what breeds are used, to what medicines are needed. Ranchers are highly educated, passionate people that ranch for only one reason: they love every part of what they do.

RealDirt: What advice would you give to anyone interested in getting into farming?

Adrienne: Farming and ranching takes more than just passion — it takes dedication, drive, intellect, and involves so much risk. You need to be comfortable to put everything on the line every single day, and roll the dice that Mother Nature, the markets, and the animals you are caring for will all work in your favour.

Farming is an open community — we love newcomers — but to succeed you must be willing to learn new things every day, work endless hours, and put yourself last. I like to think that farming is like parenting: the moment you think you have it all figured out, everything changes!

Be sure to check out Adrienne’s blog: viewfromtheranchporch.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @adrienneivey and Instagram @aderivey

Family Egg farmers featured in 2016 farm calendar

By: Matt McIntosh for Farm & Food Care Ontario

2010 calendar(Warkworth) – Ian and Sara Laver are not only proud parents and business owners; they’re also models – calendar models that is. With sponsorship from Burnbrae Farms Ltd., Ian, Sara and two of their children (four-year old Jacob and two year-old Amelia) appear on the month of April in the 2016 Faces of Farming calendar.

“My family has been farming for four generations, and producing eggs for three of those,” says Ian. “Right now I work together with my dad, but the businesses themselves are separate.”

Ian says he took an interest in farming fairly early in life, and after working on the farm all through high school, attended the University of Guelph. While working towards a degree with the Ontario Agricultural College, Ian met Sara – a self-proclaimed “city-kid” from Markham – who was pursuing a degree in Environmental Science. The two married after Sara completed a Master’s degree in environmental science from the University of Toronto.

Ian purchased his first farm eight years ago, and started growing corn soybeans and wheat. He then purchased a second farm. Continue reading

Cold snap leaves marshmallow growers feeling frosty

By: Farm & Food Care staff

MarshnewCanadians planning on camping with family and friends may feel a little less jovial this summer as late-spring cold has devastated much of the country’s marshmallow crop.

For the first time on record, it looks like frost and freezing rain will cause everyone’s favorite fluffy confectionary to jump significantly in price, and drop in availability.

“2012 was a devastating year for fruit growers, and this year we have that level of damage on our crop,” says Robyn Smore, a marshmallow farmer near Erieau Ontario who specializes in producing large white marshmallows for the retail market.

“We have almost two-hundred acres planted with marshmallows […] there’s damage to well over three-quarters of that.”

The marshmallow plant – formally known as the perennial Althaea Unofficinalis – has been used as both a medicine and foodstuff for thousands of years, and varieties of the plant exist in many areas across the globe. In Ontario, most marshmallow varieties originate from Scipio Africanus, or varieties native to Northern Africa, largely due to its sweet taste and high plant productivity. While these varieties can handle cold weather if temperatures transition slowly, they are not suited to sudden climactic changes. Buds and flowers are particularly vulnerable, and will not produce harvestable marshmallows if damaged.

This year, a spurt of warm weather early in March saw many Canadian marshmallow growers reporting earlier-than-expected budding; some farms even reported seeing plants in full bloom. Last week’s hail storms, freezing rain and heavy morning frost caused significant damage to farms across Canada with the impact of harsh March conditions was felt as far east as Prince Edward Island.

“We’re going to have to change our plans and basically cancel our early harvest altogether,” says Smore. “It just looks bad all around.”

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the marshmallow plant’s plight either. The unseasonably warm winter experienced by growers south of the border has also led to resurgence in Mallow Beetle populations – a pest which burrows into and consumes the sugar-laden buds of miniature-marshmallow plants – meaning an even wider shortage in the coming year.

Smore believes the loss of prime production areas in Canada and the United States will raise the retail price of marshmallows across North America, perhaps as much as 30 or 40 per cent.
Still, Smore says she is hopeful that they will be able to recover their losses next year.

“There’s always a sticky year between a few good ones. We just hope not to get burned the next time,” she says.

As for the rest of us, now may be an appropriate time to replenish summer stocks. Not having any on hand during the annual family camp-out would certainly be playing the fool. Read more

Updated: Cold snap leaves marshmallow growers feeling frosty

Marsh jkHappy April Fool’s Day!

Farmers definitely don’t grow marshmallows on bushes. Today’s sugary treats are made from a mixture of sugars, egg whites and gelatin beaten together. Although they used to be made of ingredients from marshmallow plant roots and there are accounts of ancient Egyptians making candies from marshmallow root and honey.

Now you know.

For more interesting farm and food tidbits, check out www.realdirtonfarming.ca

Satellites running farm equipment -> Fact or Fiction?

FactFictonFACT: Many farmers today rely on precision agriculture to manage their field work, including planting, nutrient and crop protection application and harvesting.

Satellite-controlled Global Positioning Systems (GPS) on tractors and equipment help ensure fertilizers and crop protection products are applied in the right amount to the right place, and make sure crops are planted in straight, even rows, for example. This reduces fuel consumption, and helps farmers ensure a more efficient use of nutrients, seeds and crop protection products.

Now you know!

For more interesting farm and food tidbits, check out www.realdirtonfarming.ca

Buying local, seasonal will help extend shopping dollar

By Kelly Daynard

Throughout the winter, Canadian shoppers have discovered unusually high grocery store prices for fruits, vegetables and other products.

The prices come from a combination of a lower Canadian dollar and unusual weather patterns in the United States – the source of an estimated 80 per cent of produce imports into Canada. With the currency getting lower, the buying power of importers is affected and the prices are passed along to consumers. The effect is felt even more strongly at this time of the year because there aren’t many fresh foods available in Canada during winter months. According to University of Guelph’s annual Food Price Report, the cost of food rose 4.1 per cent in 2015 and will likely rise higher this coming year.

The price increases were reflected in 2016’s Food Freedom Day – which moved to February 9 this year from February 6 in 2015. Food Freedom Day, calculated by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), is the calendar date when the average Canadian has earned enough income to pay his/her grocery bill for the year.

There are things that can be done to further your dollar’s reach at Canadian grocery stores. Here are some tips: Continue reading