Straight Talk: Let’s Get Real About Technology and our Food

It’s understandable that many consumers are curious about about how their food is grown. After all, we put food in our bodies, share it when celebrating or at times of mourning, and are responsible for what we serve to our precious children. At a time when anyone can broadcast their own personal message to millions of followers in seconds, there’s no shortage of opinions and advice on what you should and shouldn’t eat.

The tough part is, the science of health and wellness is far less sexy than many food bloggers and celebrity-du-jour personalities would have you believe. Unfortunately, the words “safe”, “affordable” and “abundant” don’t get the heart pumping like “toxic”, “Frankenfood”, and “genetically modified”. Teasing out fact from fiction about our food is not always easy or straight-forward.

This week, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report on the effects of genetically engineered (GE, sometimes also called GMO) crops on human health, the environment, and agriculture. The broad study combed through 900 studies and compared conventionally-bred crops to their GE counterparts.

Hear More: Click here to hear “Debunking Food Myths” with Yvette d’Entremont, the Sci Babe

The panel of scientists came up with a rather ho-hum conclusion: GE crops are pretty much just crops. One of the scientists involved in the study went on to say that GE is not “the panacea that some proponents claim, nor the dreaded monsters that others claim.”

Ultimately, the study confirms that crop varieties containing GE traits are safe for us to consume and safe for the environment. They’re also not a silver bullet to any one challenge in agriculture  — but anyone involved in farming recognizes there are always trade-offs when you’re working with Mother Nature.

The Academy of Sciences’ report also noted that the distinction between “genetically modified” and not is becoming less obvious, as technology, such as CRISPR, a gene-editing technique, creates new varieties of crop types indistinguishable from non-modified lines.

Will this Biotech 2.0 ease the fears and distrust many consumers have of technology in food production? That’s the big question that many in agriculture would love to see answered with a resounding yes.

Curious about how your food is grown? Follow this link to The Real Dirt on Farming

Nurse-Turned-Farmer Featured as May’s Faces of Farming

By Matt McIntosh for Farm & Food Care Ontario

Diane Cook may have gone to school for nursing, but shortly after meeting her future husband, Don, she immediately took an interest in farm life. Now, 37 years later, she’s the matriarch of a farm family that’s five generations old, and even has their own road.

May 2016 Diane

“Don’s great grandfather was a county constable, and one of the original settlers in this area,” says Diane. “20 years ago, the historical society renamed the road ‘Cook Road’ after him.”

Diane grew up close to her grandparents and uncle. They were farmers, and that meant Diane spent quite a bit of time helping out with chores. Her real interest in agriculture, however, began when she started dating Don. Because of the workload Don and his family had to manage, the couple used to spend some of their dates riding inside the tractor cab as Don worked in the fields. At the time, Diane also took it upon herself to start tackling a few tasks herself.

“It was a natural progression into farming for me, really. I thought since I was already there, I might as well help out and get something done,” she says.

That natural progression eventually saw Diane taking on some of the bookkeeping responsibilities as well, even before the couple married in 1978. She began working on the farm full-time a couple years after marriage, with her role expanding as time went on.

Today, Diane and Don are parents to Jeff (age 32), Lisa (age 30), Bobby (age 25) and Brett (age 22), and grandparents to Briar, Kyla, and Shaye. Diane is also the face of May in the 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar. Her page is sponsored by RBC Royal Bank.

Along with their son Jeff, the couple grows 3,500 acres of corn, wheat and soybeans for both the consumer market and seed companies. On top of that, they produce sweet corn, green beans, lima beans and green peas for the Canadian frozen vegetable market.

As is expected with a business that’s five generations old, the Cook family farm has certainly changed since Don’s great grandfather first settled the area. Now called Mapleview Farms, Diane and Don have added to the amount of land under their business name, and the variety of crops grown on that land throughout their time together. They even tried growing about 90 acres of black beans for the first time in the spring of 2015, despite the fact that it can be tricky to grow in cooler and wetter climates.

In terms of future plans for the farm, Diane says they are hoping to incorporate more black beans into their crop rotation, and continue making environmentally-conscious improvements to other aspects of their farm. Jeff, she reiterates, is very focused on being progressive.

“Jeff went to the University of Guelph for agriculture and graduated in 2006. He manages our contracts, plus he does a lot of research because he’s interested in finding new and better ways to manage the farm.”

In her spare time, Diane enjoys golfing, biking and gardening, as well other sports when time permits. Spending time with their young granddaughters and being able to live and work on the farm, though, are some of Diane and Don’s favourite pastimes.

“I love being outside, and having the chance to see my family,” she says. “Farming is a challenge; no two jobs are the same. You can see every day what you have accomplished.”

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!

 

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

Water, water everywhere…or not

The United Nations has declared today – March 22, 2016 – as World Water Day.

Did you know Canada has approximately 20 per cent of the world’s total fresh water supply? But, less than half of our supply is considered “renewable” — that is, it’s readily available and of a certain quality. That means, based on water cycling and recycling times, that Canada has only 7 per cent of the global “renewable” supply of water. Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Did you know 061 (Canada)What about farmers and water?

Farmers are the original environmentalists and understand the importance of healthy soil, water and air. Farmers live on their farms with their families and depend on the environment to create a healthy place to live, as well as the right conditions to grow crops and raise livestock.

Farmers work hard to grow food sustainably, ensuring the land is of good quality for future generations and is left in better shape than how it was when they started farming it. Canadian farmers are always proactively working to protect the environment and growing more food with fewer inputs such as water.

Continue reading

Sustainably raising crops and cattle

By: Matt McIntosh

2010 calendar(Ripley) – Wanda Snobelen has had a stake in agriculture and the beef business ever since she bought her first Charolais cow at 12 years old. Since then she has significantly expanded her beef herd, and delved further into a diverse farm life.

The third-generation to be raised on her family’s Ripley-area beef farm, Wanda took her first foray into raising beef cattle as part of a 4-H beef club project. Now she helps harvest nearly 5,000 acres of farmland — and raises 120 Charolais cattle of her own – on her husband’s family farm in Ripley. She is also the new face for March in Farm & Food Care Ontario’s 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar. Her page is sponsored by DeKalb Canada.

“We moved to Ripley in 2000. My in-laws had a business in Tiverton that I worked at for a few years, but [my husband] Sam and I have farmed full-time ever since,” says Wanda. “When I moved, the beef cattle came with me.” Continue reading

Fact or Fiction: You can save 1,300 gallons of water by skipping your lunch burger

FactFictonThere’s an infographic floating around on social media. Perhaps you’ve seen it.

It claims you can save 1,300 gallons of water if you:
– don’t flush your toilet for six months, OR
– don’t take a shower for three months, OR
– for lunch today, don’t eat one burger.

Turns out, this is FICTION.

Let’s look at how the cow (behind that burger) really measures up.

Continue reading

From Pasture to Pond

by Matt McIntosh, Farm & Food Care

(Mooretown) – Chad Anderson might not be an avid outdoorsman, but he has a definite appreciation for natural spaces and the wildlife they support. On his cow-calf farm near Mooretown in Lambton County, Chad has invested in both new pasture and a new pond in an effort to improve the environment for wild birds as well as his beef herd.

The view of the Anderson farm from the duck pond

The view of the Anderson farm from the duck pond

Last year, Chad’s farm was in the middle of a transition. A section of cropland was being converted to permanent pasture for his animals. However, his pasturing plans hit a roadblock when they encountered a stubbornly wet section of ground just behind his barn.

“Part of the area we were seeding down to pasture was always a really wet and low lying area,” says Chad. “Leaving it like that and making it into pasture would have been an issue. I didn’t want my cows to get in it because they could get stuck in the mud, or get sick from drinking the water.”

In the interests of his herd’s health, says Chad, the area was going to have to be drained before it could be used. Continue reading

Day in the Life – of a Saskatchewan Grain Farmer

By Jean Clavelle Farm & Food Care SaskatchewanDayintheLife

I spoke to Trevor Scherman today from the tractor on his farm near Battleford in northwest Saskatchewan where he’s in the middle of seeding. See what he has to say about their family farm and being a grain farmer in Canada. Continue reading

Celebrating soils

By Patrick Beaujot

Did you know:
• 95 per cent of our food is directly or indirectly produced on our soils
• A shortage of any one of the 15 nutrients required for plant growth can limit crop yields
• By 2050, food production must increase by 60 per cent globally and almost 100 per cent in developing countries
• 33 per cent of soil is moderately to highly degraded due to erosion, nutrient depletion, acidification, salinization, and compaction
• It can take up to 1,000 years to form one centimeter of soil
• Sustainable soil management could produce up to 58 per cent more food
• Experts estimate that we only have 60 years of topsoil left

Source: United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization
The United Nations declared 2015 the International Year of the Soil. This is also National Soil Conversation Week so it’s fitting to consider what the soil and the earth provide.

Since 95% of our food comes from the soil, we should treat the soil with great respect.

To make sure our top soil is kept healthy and preserved for future generations, farmers have been changing their practices from using intensive tillage to conservation or no-till. Continue reading