Inside Farming: There's an App for that

Pictured is a milking parlour, showing off the electronics used by a computer system. As technology advances, farmers are utilizing these types of technologies that can work to their advantage when managing a farm. Photo by Rudi Spruit.

Pictured is a milking parlour, showing off the electronics used by a computer system. As technology advances, farmers are utilizing these types of technologies that can work to their advantage when managing a farm. Photo by Rudi Spruit.

By Rudi Spruit, CanACT President, University of Guelph
Today’s farms are more modern than ever with enough technology to care for hundreds of animals with a phone.

From GPS to weight monitoring to breeding problems out of genetics, technology has come a long way and continues to move forward at an extremely rapid pace. Every type of farm utilizes technology in some way and continues to improve to try and produce more food for less money.

If I had asked my grandfather how many cows he could milk, he would have said he could probably milk 45, although he would then be swamped with work. So, when my dad took over the farm in the 80s, he purchased his first computer and increased the herd size to 60 cows and 200 pigs. The computer allowed him to manage the animals more efficiently and decreased the amount of paperwork there was to fill out. Now, instead of using a calculator and paper, he was able to transfer all the information to a spreadsheet, completing a task that would have taken hours in just mere minutes.

In the early 2000s, we adopted a new computer program. This program allowed us to track each and every cow’s performance on an hourly basis. We can see which cow walked more or less than usual, if they lay down more than usual, if they’re not eating enough, or if they’re metabolizing too much body fat for milk output. We can also check the health of every cow by analyzing their milk as they are being milked. This kind of management level has increased our herd size to 200 milking cows, but takes less work than the 35 my grandfather was in charge of. Continue reading

Even Livestock are Getting in on the Tech Craze

Jean L Clavelle

RFID 2 PICAccording to StatsCan as of January 1, 2014 there are over 12 million beef and dairy cattle, almost 900,000 sheep and lambs, and nearly 250,000 bison in Canada.   Which is a lot of animals.  Bet you didn’t know that each and every one of those animals can be identified by its own unique number (much like our own Social Insurance Number).  The next question might be why…?  Why would livestock need to have their own number?

Well it is simple really.  With individual animal numbers we are able to easily track where any one animal came from in Canada.  The ability to identify animals and their origins during an animal health or food safety emergency is paramount to the success of the response operation and the protection of human and animal health.  Meaning it gives us the ability to prevent the spread of disease and further, to eradicate disease as it arises – to protect not only Canadian livestock but consumers and customers as well.

It was initiated in 1998 by beef and dairy industry leaders who recognized the importance of protecting our national herd and assuring consumer confidence which lead to the establishment of a national identification program.  On January 1, 2001 the Government of Canada passed regulations for compulsory animal identification for both cattle and bison. The Canadian Sheep Identification Program (CSIP) followed suit with its own industry-led trace-back system introduced in 2004 applicable to all ovine animals in Canada. Continue reading

New company offers local, healthy snack options

By Jeanine Moyer

Becky Smollett is shown with two of her Ontario popcorn products

(Cambridge) – Have you ever heard of a popcorn farmer? We’ve got them right here in Ontario, and a new local business is bringing customers the flavour and healthy goodness of whole grain popcorn sourced directly from the farm. From Farm to Table, located in Cambridge, ON, is marketing fresh, seasoned Ontario popcorn across Canada to school children and snackers of all ages.

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Innovation is sweet for Ontario maple syrup producer

By Jeanine Moyer

Doug Thompson shows the wireless Tap Track monitoring system designed to identify problems in his maple sap lines.

(Hilton Beach) – What do you get when you combine the centuries old tradition of making maple syrup with today’s modern farmer? Innovation and savvy marketing. That’s the approach Doug Thompson of Thompson’s Maple Syrup in Hilton Beach, ON has taken throughout his more than thirty years of tapping trees and making maple syrup. Continue reading

Water resource results symposium March 6

Farm & Food Care Ontario, in partnership with the University of Guelph, is pleased to be supporting a symposium featuring results from the WRAMI (Water Resource Adaptation and Management Initiative) initiative of 2013.

The results of several WRAMI projects will be released at the event on March 6, 2014 at the Holiday Inn in Guelph. The symposium will feature talks from nine WRAMI participants and partners and a poster display session. The keynote address will be given by Chris Kinsley, Manager of the Ontario Rural Wastewater Centre.

Reasons to Attend:

  • Projects highlighted will include irrigation of potatoes, corn, grapes, peaches, sod and water benchmarking of container nurseries.
  • Hear from project researchers about their experiences and lessons learned during their 2013 WRAMI projects.
  • Project participants will also provide results of water use surveys and grower experiences with extension and water management advisory services.
  • Two of the projects profiled will feature leading edge waste water treatment solutions related to the greenhouse.

Who Should Attend? If you have an interest in water saving and conservation programs, practices and technologies, you should plan to attend this forum. The program will be of special interest to students, researchers, extension professionals and agronomists.

Call for Posters:  A poster session will be a component of the symposium, providing an opportunity to present new information about water use in Ontario agriculture.  Posters featuring results from research trials including water saving, water use efficiency, soil moisture monitoring, water use economics, agricultural water recycling/reuse and water use efficiency technologies are welcomed.  Graduate students, researchers and industry and extension specialists are encouraged to participate.

WRAMI is an 18-month (2013-2014) program which has allocated approximately $900,000 to various demonstration and pilot scale projects. The objective of the WRAMI initiative is to help Ontario farmers be better prepared for low water response, drought preparedness and adapt their water use practices to deal with the growing impacts of climate change.

Registration is only $15.00 for the entire conference. Register at

Whip up your understanding of plant biotechnology

Canadian consumers enjoy variety in their diets and this sometimes takes the form of a simple change in the foods we regularly consume, like choosing orange cauliflower or purple potatoes in the place of the typical off-white variety.

These colourful alternatives are widely available thanks to plant breeding, a technique that involves crossing plant varieties over many years until the desired colour is achieved.

Janice Tranberg

Plant biotechnology, an extension of plant breeding, offers its own variety of benefits such as healthier foods and increased yields. But consumers are sometimes hesitant to accept plant biotechnology, which is a bit perplexing given their acceptance of traditional plant breeding techniques.

Janice Tranberg, who leads the Council for Biotechnology Information in Canada, helps put consumers at ease by explaining plant biotechnology’s relationship to plant breeding with an interesting comparison – whipped cream. “There are a number of ways to turn liquid cream into its whipped counterpart,” says Tranberg. “You can use electric beaters, a hand held whisk and in a pinch, a fork can also do the trick. All three tools produce the same thing; they incorporate air into cream. The main difference is how long it takes to achieve the desired result.

Compared to plant breeding, plant biotechnology is in a faster way for scientists and breeders to achieve a desired characteristic.”

Tranberg is quick to point out that the use of the term ‘faster’ is relative. Products of plant biotechnology take years and years to come to market because of the rigorous testing they are put through to ensure their safety. Also of note is that scientists are currently using plant biotechnology to develop strawberries with improved shelf-life, texture and flavour, something that Tranberg thinks will go very well with whipped cream.

Cleanliness and consistency keys to chicken comfort, farmer says

(St. Anns) – When newly-hatched chicks arrive at Topp Farms, they are placed into barns that have been freshly cleaned and warmed for their arrival. New bedding lines the floors, and energy efficient lights reflect off the natural wood paneling to create a cozy and safe place for them to explore.

“When chicks are placed into my barns, they’ve usually just hatched a few hours before,” says Kevin Topp, owner of Niagara-area Topp Farms. “It’s important to make chicks feel comfortable and that they find the water and food as quickly as possible.”

Kevin Topp is shown in his family's chicken barn.

Kevin Topp is shown in his family’s chicken barn.

Topp is a third-generation chicken farmer with a university degree in economics. He worked in the barns with his father growing up, but he considered a career in banking before returning home with his wife, Renee, who landed a teaching job in the area. He says his return to the farm was driven largely by new technology that was taking some of the labour out of chicken farming, such as automated feeding equipment, and improved temperature control systems. The industry was becoming more organized too, with a vertical supply chain that guarantees consistency and quality to end-users. Today his chickens are sold to a company that supplies restaurant chains such as KFC and Swiss Chalet. Continue reading

Innovation drives success of family fruit business

Phil Tregunno and his son Jourdan are shown in their fruit orchard in Niagara

By Lilian Schaer

(Niagara-on-the-Lake) – Family tradition is an important part of Ontario’s farming culture. Innovation and new technology, however, are what helps keep that family tradition going for the future generations.

Fruit grower Phil Tregunno is proud of being the fourth generation of his family to farm in the Niagara Region – and with his two sons and a daughter-in-law working alongside him and his wife Lorna, the fifth generation is also firmly entrenched in the family business.

The Tregunnos’ main crop on their 700 acre farm is peaches, but they also grow nectarines and plums as well as table and wine grapes. Their tender fruit is sold through the Vineland Growers’ Co-operative in Jordan, which distributes it to Canada’s major retail chains, and their wine grapes, including pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, merlot and cabernet, are contracted to different wineries in the region. Continue reading

It's All Antibiotic Free, Baby!

Reprinted with permission from


It’s All Antibiotic Free, Baby!

Posted by
After all of the recent Panera and Chipotle hype about antibiotic free production, I decided to look at the data. This is also a follow up to my previous blog about antibiotic free (ABF) meat; I am going to present some data to back up my claim that there is very little difference between conventional and ABF – in other words, it’s all antibiotic free, baby! #ItsAllABF!

Due to farmers following appropriate withdrawal times, there are very few violations. In fact in the last three years of USDA testing no broiler chickens have been found with violative residues for the scheduled (random) sampling. For beef only 2 violations out of 1,600 samples were found and only 3 out of 2,200 from market hogs.  Note that antibiotics are not toxins, there are useful and very safe products used by us all.

The Bottom Line

The residue detection levels in the 3 classifications that I analyzed (beef cattle, market hogs, and broilers) are extremely small and well below the levels that would cause adverse effects to a human eating the meat. In addition, if an animal tests positive for residues, it does not enter the food supply.

Meat from an ABF farm would supposedly have zero levels of residues – but, if you aren’t going to get sick or be affected by the perfectly healthy, wholesome conventional meat, why should you pay more for something that potentially carries more foodborne illness?

From a veterinary perspective, I am concerned with the internal struggle that the ABF farmer must face. Most farmers get some premium for raising ABF meat, so if the animals get sick does the farmer treat and lose the financial benefits of ABF or wait a day or two? Waiting can increase mortality and spread of infectious disease significantly. What about the veterinarian, who has taken an oath to prevent animal suffering, but management will only let him treat a small percentage of the barns? Can these restaurateurs really argue their ABF meat provides a better “conscience choice,” if it comes at the cost of additional mortality and animal suffering? Continue reading

It’s a fishy business for Northern Ontario rainbow trout farmers

By Kelly Daynard

Standing on the dock of the North Wind Fisheries’ rainbow trout farm, farm manager Rob Pennie is happy to give a tour to a group of visitors. The farm, located on Great Lacloche Island, on the North Channel of Lake Huron, is unarguably located in one of Ontario’s most picturesque settings, in an area that is both sheltered but still has good cold water flow.

It’s an isolated setting. To even get to the farm requires a drive down nine kilometers of gravel laneways.  Traffic during Pennie’s morning commute can consist of deer, bear, wolves, turtles, or even Scottish Highland Cattle grazing by the side of the lane.

Farm manager Rob Pennie stands on the dock of North Wind Fisheries in the Wabuno Channel north of Manitoulin Island

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