Archive for March, 2012

Nuffield in the Great White North – March 7-9

After a couple of days in Washington, we boarded Air Canada for the Great White North – Winnipeg, Manitoba!  After almost 4 weeks away from Canada, it was great to be back in familiar territory.  I had been talking up the cold weather in Canada to my Aussie travelling companions and the weather didn’t disappoint.  It wasn’t cold by Canadian standards, but we were able to experience –15C with a solid wind chill.  Much different than the +45C some would be experiencing at home in Australia. IMG00143-20120309-0857After one cold day, it warmed up to a nice +5C.  My wife Carie sent Canadian scarves for everyone, which were much appreciated!

Thanks to Wally Doerksen, Nuffield Scholar and retired farmer from Steinbach, Manitoba, we had several meetings with farmers and P1080653organizations that showcased innovation in Manitoba agriculture.  There are major changes occurring that affect the structure of wheat marketing in Western Canada.  It was interesting to meet with a CWB official to learn about their plans for marketing wheat in the future.  The Australians went through a similar process that  deregulated their wheat marketing system a few years ago.  We had some lively discussion among our group. It was refreshing to talk with farmers that have first hand experience moving from a single desk to open marketing of wheat.  We can learn a lot from farmers in other countries about how they have dealt with change and survived marketing turmoil.  Do we do this enough?

While in Manitoba, we had our first real discussion about the beef industry.  Canadian beef farmers are finally seeing decent prices and optimism after almost 10 years of struggles as a result of BSE in Canada disrupting export markets.  I spent close to 10 years working in the beef industry before switching to grains.  Its nice to see the industry getting fair returns what I would consider the best food in the world – nothing beats a Triple A Canadian steak!

P1080650Through my travels, I am continually impressed by farmers from around the world. They all seem to possess similar traits – things like quiet optimism, modesty, acceptance, family values, and integrity. No wonder the general public ranks farmers among the most trusted professionals, ranking up with doctors and nurses!  It’s kind of like those stories you hear about twins that were separated at birth.  When they are reunited as adults they share incredible similarities.  In the case of farmers, it can’t be genetics that cause the similarities, so it must be their environment.   Perhaps it’s because farmers around the world face common challenges, such as weather dependency, volatile markets, independent, asset based business and often isolating work.

I heard this comment this week: Farming is like a poker game, once you put the seed in the ground, you are all in.  I can identify.

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Nuffield Arrives in Washington, DC

On March 4th we said goodbye to Europe and headed West to North America.P1080624 We hit the halfway mark in our Global Focus Program while in Washington, DC.  After a short night’s sleep, we started the morning on March 5th with a meeting at the Canadian Embassy.  It was interesting to have both a Canadian and Australian Trade Councillor in our meeting at the same time to discuss trading partnerships between our countries and the US.  I always knew that the US was Canada’s biggest trading partner, but hadn’t really contemplated the significance of trade to both countries.  Did you know that there are reports for each US state and Canadian province that outlines the Canada-US trade and the most significant products for each area?

While in DC, we learned a lot about the US Farm Bill and proposed changes for the next 5 year programP1080600, starting in 2013.  The amount of dollars in the US Farm Bill is staggering, but we learned that about 80% of it is directed toward domestic food aid and nutrition programs.

In Canada, we hear a lot about the US Farm Bill and its impact on Canadian agriculture.  I found it really valuable to see first hand where some of these discussions take place and speak with US government staff that are directly involved with developing the programs and negotiating budgets.  One of our meetings was held in the US Senate Committee on Agriculture room.  This was an impressive room with a balcony overlooking the US Capitol Building. P1080625 The decisions made in this room have shaped US Agriculture and the impacts of these decisions have had global reach.

We did a fair bit of walking around Washington to get from one meeting to another.  Some of my Aussie friends were fascinated by the squirrels running around the parks.  Apparently they don’t have squirrels in Australia!  Another first for 3 of our travellers was SNOW!!  It happened that we were standing outside the White House gate when the first flakes came down.  This photo was snapped within a minute of these guys seeing their first flakes.P1080642

Agriculture in the UK

I’ve just arrived in Washington, DC after spending the past four days in London, England at the second leg of the Nuffield Contemporary Scholars Conference.  We spent March 1st at New Zealand House – on the 18th floor with a panoramic view of the city of London.

london pana

We had many thought provoking speakers that really highlighted issues facing UK farmers.  For example, there are a number of charitable organizations in England that get involved in agriculture that are not necessarily farmer driven.  A couple examples are the Soil Association http://www.soilassociation.org/ and GM Freeze http://www.gmfreeze.org/P1080594We heard from these organizations and learned about their goals for agriculture.  Although the views of these groups are often controversial and polarizing, they mostly want the same thing as everyone on the planet – a healthy, affordable food supply grown in a sustainable way.  The differences come in how the words healthy, affordable and sustainable are defined.   As farmers, we often are so caught up in our own business, we forget how those that aren’t farmers view our industry.  We should be ready and willing to talk about how we farm and the benefits that new technology brings to a more sustainable food supply.  I think a lot of issues around genetically modified crops and pesticides come up through the fear of the unknown.

On the evening of March 1st, the New Zealand High Commission hosted a reception for us that the Nuffield patron, HRH Duke of Gloucester attended.  He is the Queen’s first cousin.  I had a chat with him and upon learning I was a farmer from Canada, he was quite interested in the difference between genetically modified and non-genetically modified soybeans.  It appears that this issue is front and centre in the UK, even among royalty!P1080489

We had the good fortune on March 3rd to get into the English countryside and visit some farms.  We learned about the practical aspects of their farm subsidy programs.  UK farmers receive significant support from their government, but it comes with expectations.  Most of these expectations are around the preservation of a natural environment for wildlife and people.  For example, their programs include support for hedge restoration, land set aside for wildlife corridors, and winter feeding for birds.

P1080591A couple things I gleaned:

  • Lots of groups present VIEWS on issues, rather than FACTS.  It is important to understand the difference.
  • We’ve all heard of NIMBY (not in my backyard), but have you heard of BANANA’s ? Ban Anything Near Anyone Near Anywhere.
      One of the perks of being a Nuffield Scholar is that we become honorary members of the Farmers Club, located in the heart of London.  This members only club offers great dining and lodging in a historic building within walking distance of the British Parliament.  I was able to take full advantage of the privilege by having a breakfast meeting with a UK farm research manager and was able to learn about how their farmers are setting up research partnerships with government to advance their sector.

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