Monthly Archives: April 2014

Leadership Learnings from the Advancing Women in Agriculture Conference

Photo Credit: Debra Murphy, 2014

Photo Credit: Debra Murphy, 2014

I’ve learned a few things about myself as my career in agriculture media has evolved — I thrive on face-to-face interaction, retain more information if I discuss a topic with someone else (or re-write notes) and that the more I learn about farming and the agriculture industry the more I feel there is to know and the more I want to learn it. The combination of these things means that a conference like the inaugural Advancing Women — Leadership in Agriculture conference, held this week in Calgary, has left my brain full to bursting.

In my role with Real Agriculture, I attend many conferences. All have value, but often in different ways — I may learn about current research findings in agronomy, or take in a market outlook for the global pulse trade or, conversely, some conferences are just really big reunions, where I spend most of my time catching up with farmer friends I haven’t seen in a year.

But this conference was very different. This conference was a combination of all the things I love about my job, plus a tidal wave of top-notch speakers who offered their perspective on several aspects of professional development. From goal setting and over-coming challenges, through networking and communication tips, to the value of both personal and professional financial literacy. In short, instead of just covering the conference, I was participating in an event that was challenging me on a much broader scale. I’ve come home with a head full of ideas and goals and fire in my belly.

Now the tough part begins. How do I integrate a day of learning and inspiration into meaningful change in my career and personal life? After all, that’s the goal of any professional development exercise, is it not? Step one is sharing some of the things I learned — the beauty of the day was that yes, it was a conference full of women, but the subject matter is universal, thus, here is my list for all of you:

  1. JoAnne Buth, former president of the Canola Council of Canada and current Canadian senator, shared her wonderfully-meandering career path and some of the wisdom she’s gained along the way. She related that aspects of professional conduct are in her nature, but that choosing words carefully, being a thoughtful listener and learning to deal with opposing personalities are learned skills. It’s imperative to be willing to modify your behaviour to effectively manage people. She related a story of feeling the pressure to always be “on” and feeling like she was always on stage. Her mentor replied, You are always on stage, conduct yourself a accordingly. I’m not self-absorbed enough to imagine she was talking directly to me, but her words hit home, let me tell you. I’m not known for being quiet or keeping opinions to myself. I could learn to zip it now and again and listen more.
  2. On the subject of networking, Courtenay Wolfe, former CEO of Salida Capital, shared the importance of saying yes to other people’s requests, asking for what you want no matter how out-there it may seem (if you don’t ask, the answer is always no), and following through. Wolfe stressed the importance of doing what you say you will do. Most people don’t. People will remember you and be primed to also reciprocate, perhaps not directly with you, but with those they interact with. And what goes around comes around. Say yes, follow through and put yourself out there — you never know what amazing things may come your way through a chance meeting.
  3. Endeavor to learn new things about yourself. Angela Santiago, CEO of the Little Potato Company, based near Edmonton, never intended to even work in agriculture, let alone head up a successful primary-production-based company. She had several great insights into professional growth and the value of outside perspective on farm management decisions (I’ll post my interview with her shortly), but her personal story of the importance of challenging yourself and learning about yourself continually struck a chord with me. I’m quite honest, I think, with my strengths and weaknesses but Angela’s insight has encouraged me to find ways to stretch my boundaries a bit more — keeping within my personal values and ideals, of course.
  4. Have goals, share them wisely and don’t get bogged down by the details. Eventually, yes, you’ll have to outline achievable and measurable steps to reach your goal, but you may not have all that figured out from the outset and that’s OK. If we all did, we’d have achieved everything by now, wouldn’t we? In other words, some goals may be very long-term or personal. Some may be very lofty and if you shared them widely, you may end up too discouraged by the negative feedback to pursue the goal. Finding the balance between asking for mentorship or coaching on goals while also protecting them from well-meaning but negative feedback will be a challenge.

I could go on, of course, but some of my take-home messages are for me only. It will be very interesting going forward to hear from other participants and what their take-home messages were, their action item list and whether or not they will now ALWAYS carry business cards.

The post Leadership Learnings from the Advancing Women in Agriculture Conference appeared first on Real Agriculture.

Local Food & Wine Convergence is a Great Opportunity for Ontario Farmers

Owen RobertsThe devil is in the details of a new two-year pilot program in Ontario designed to bring local food and wine together in farmers’ markets. But if the agri-food sector has enough patience to see it through, I believe everyone involved – farmers, wineries and consumers – can come out on top.

Starting tomorrow, Ontario’s best wines, crafted entirely from homegrown grapes (called Vintner’s Quality Alliance or VQA wines) will be able to be sold at farmers’ markets in Ontario, alongside local food.

The farmers’ market program addresses the province’s desire to stimulate the economy by further promoting local food and beverages. VQA wine sales in Ontario soared to $268 million last year, up a phenomenal $100 million since 2008.

Overall, Ontario’s wine and grape industry contributed $3.3 billion to the province’s economy in 2011. But despite this growth, the wine industry has long argued its potential to expand would be further enhanced with greater exposure to consumers.

Selling wine at farmers’ markets is a step towards making that consumer connection. And according to the Wine Council of Ontario, it’s a way to promote local farming and local food, too.

“Sales of VQA wines at farmers’ markets create another needed opportunity for Ontario’s wineries to connect with consumers — in this case closer to home, side-by-side with our farmers,” says council president Hillary Dawson. “We encourage Ontarians to use the opportunity of matching their local food with local wines crafted from 100 per cent Ontario grapes. What grows together, goes together.”

Great slogan!

About two dozen wineries have received approval from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario to sell their VQA wine at farmers’ markets, through what’s called an “occasional extension” of their on-site winery retail stores.

This is a highly regulated business, and the Attorney General’s office took a good look at the proposal. In the end, one staffer there told me, “the decision to provide VQA wine sales at farmers’ markets through extensions to existing on-site retail operations is appropriate, given that licensees already have the relevant knowledge and experience appropriate for retail sales, including due concern for social responsibility considerations.”

A lot of hand wringing and what-if scenarios related to alcohol sales at farmers’ markets caused government bureaucrats some sleepless nights. Legally and administratively (not to mention morally), there’s a world of difference between selling grapes at a farmers’ market stall and selling wine.

Nonetheless, and to their credit, they pressed on. And what a boon for those who frequent the farmers’ markets participating in the program.

Think of it like a restaurant. You pick out a steak or a bunch of asparagus, and have vendors or wine reps suggest a wine to match…which they just so happen to have on hand! Great! I imagine having a winery near your booth at a farmers’ market wouldn’t be bad for a vendor’s business, either.

Once you leave the farmers’ market, you’ll still stop by the LCBO for whatever else you want or need. Farmers’ markets will not replace the LCBO. But the scenario of fresh, local Ontario food matched on the spot with great wine — which by virtue of being made in Ontario is local by some definition, even if it’s not produced in your area code — is tantalizing.

Some big unknowns exist for this program, though, which I guess is why it’s a pilot.

First is the commitment by wineries. While appearing at busy farmers’ markets will enhance a winery’s profile, I’m not so sure about the economics of it. Is it profitable for a winery even an hour or so away to pack a truck with a few cases of wine, and spend a half-day hawking it at a farmer’s market? Many wineries, even though they produce top-of-the-line VQA wine, don’t have the horses for this. However, they might find the additional labour costs of doing so offset by the fact that they don’t have to shell out a portion of their sales to the LCBO.

As well, it’s likely Ontario craft beer producers and fruit wineries that have storefronts like the VQA wine producers will also want to take part. Right now, it’s just for VQA wine producers. But after all, the whole idea of selling wine at farmers’ markets originated with fruit wine producers. I suspect they too would like to participate in the inaugural experiment.

And finally, anyone who has frequented farmers’ markets knows there are cultural reasons some food producers would not want their products associated with alcohol.

Right now, farmers’ markets that will feature VQA wine sales are mostly in big cities:  Hamilton, Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton and London, among them. But Ontario is home to more than 200 farmers’ markets and 140 wineries that make VQA wine. While officials from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food have no estimate for the anticipated number of approvals, they say they expect more shortly.

“It will be a widespread pilot,” said one.

But will it be popular and permanent? I hope so. It’s certainly a step towards liberalizing antiquated liquor laws here, and if it’s treated responsibly, it will make the farmer-food connection stronger yet.

The post Local Food & Wine Convergence is a Great Opportunity for Ontario Farmers appeared first on Real Agriculture.

Corn School: The Soil Squeeze Test, Ground Temp & Kicking off Corn Planting

IMG_2676 cornPatience wears thin as we head in to May and the ground is still wet and cold. The cost of going in too soon, based on soil conditions and not the calendar, can be mighty costly. If the ground is fit, but a little cool, that’s one thing, but ground that is both wet and cool is just going to end up in a mess if you put the planter in too soon.

In this episode of the Corn School, RealAgriculture field editor Bernard Tobin joins Doug Alderman, national sales manager for PRIDE Seeds, on his farm near Inwood, Ont., to gauge soil “fitness”. The term “fit” can mean different things, however Alderman uses the squeeze test to evaluate first the top soil, and then the planting zone’s moisture levels. That, combined with current soil temperature and an eye to the forecast, will dictate the length of time before Alderman will send the planter to this particular field.

(This episode also has a special guest appearance by a farm dog and a fishing pole! Keeping it real here on Real Agriculture!)

If you cannot see the embedded video, click here.


Want more Corn School episodes? See the entire library here!

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What Does the Farmers Almanac Say About Weather in Your Area This Spring

Farmers are preoccupied by the weather and rightly so.  Weather, good or bad dictates work load and income during the growing season.  It is amazing how many farmers interpret the weather through the fog calendar, hoar frost and moon cycles instead of a weather analyst.

For many farmers they rely on one book to guide their opinion of the weather and how it will develop through the season.  Its the Farmers Almanac.

Check out what the Farmers Almanac is forecasting in your Canadian town this spring.  CLICK HERE

Get the Farmers Almanac long range forecast in the US by region and city CLICK HERE






The post What Does the Farmers Almanac Say About Weather in Your Area This Spring appeared first on Real Agriculture.

A First Look at the Upcoming World Congress on Conservation Agriculture

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 4.54.15 PMIn two months’ time, people from around the world will meet up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to share their knowledge and experiences with conservation agriculture.

This is the first time the event, the sixth of its kind, has been hosted in North America. The World Congress on Conservation Agriculture will bring together researchers, industry and, most importantly, farmers, to tackle the why and how of soil conservation and its role in modern agriculture.

In this interview, Lyndsey Smith, editor of Real Agriculture, speaks with Don McCabe, farmer from Inwood, Ont., to talk about what he, as a farmer, hopes to learn at the conference, and how conservation agriculture has changed his farm, deep in the heart of tillage country.

If you cannot see the embedded player, click here.

The post A First Look at the Upcoming World Congress on Conservation Agriculture appeared first on Real Agriculture.