Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Nuffield Contemporary Scholars Conference - Monday

Monday morning came around very quickly and it was straight down to business with a great line up of speakers to give us an overview of the International, National and then Provincial activities. First up was:
Bob Seguin from the George Morris Centre.  Bob gave us some fantastic stats about Canada's vast land area and what is produced, exported and where the competition is coming from.  He also mentioned that farm gate incomes have risen significantly in the last few years and food and beverage sales doubled between 1991 and 2011.
Mike Toombs, Director, Research and Innovation Branch, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs was next on the stage.  Mike talked about the increasing returns, costs and produce coming form the province.  71% of sales are coming form farms with individual sales of over $1 million  (17% of farms), the old 80:20 rule!
Barry Senft the CEO of Grain Farmers of Ontario followed and explained the GFO history and how they look after 28,000 members, covering 5 million acres of land and have $2.5 Billion worth of farm gate receipts.  Wheat yields here continue to increase, although from a lower starting point than in the UK.  Average yields would only be 3T/Ha.  The province is also well situated with lots of mills and elevator locations being this close to many customers, mainly in the United States. Canada is also the 4th or 5th highest wheat exporter in the world.
Bill Emmott, Chair of Dairy Farmers of Ontario (above) spoke well about the dairy industry.  I particularly enjoyed the analogy about you business and I guess life being like driving a car.  Your future is the windscreen, look forward it's big!  Your history is the rear view mirror, much smaller but useful to see where you have come from, and keeping your hands on the steering wheel gives you direction.  Also Bill talked about Farm Food Day.  This is a date in the calendar by which the average Canadian citizen would have earned enough money to pay for the years supply of food.  For Canada that day is the 14th February and for the UK its the 9th February.  The next step is to work out the date when the farm gate price is reached?
Steve Peters, the Executive Director, Association of Food Processors of Ontario was last on before lunch. This was interesting; looking at the research that is being done into new crops for new inhabitant's of the province, all with different tastes.  the attitude of 'we can grow that' seemed to make a lot of sense.
After lunch we had a trio of speakers:
David McInnes (President and CEO, Canadian Agri-food Policy Institute)
Al Mussell (Senior Research Associate, George Morris Centre (US Farm Policy)
Sterling Liddell from Rabo Agri Finance. (World economics, supply and demand, and risk awareness)
Stephen Yarrow who is the Vice President of Crop Life, Canada spoke to us about the Genetic Modification debate and what science is coming along next.  Croplife is based in Ottawa and is funded by the major plant breeding companies to try and get the scientific facts out into the debate.  We debated the sorry state we find ourselves in within the UK not being able to use this technology.  Used correctly it will be a massive benefit to our industry and environment.  The loss of investment, skills and innovation being lost form the EU will come back to haunt us!
Diana Stapleton was next on to talk about Food Banks of Canada.  It was a real eye opener.  93,000 people use food banks every month and nearly 1 in 5 of these people are employed or recently unemployed and a staggering 38% are children!  It was also good to hear that Canadian farmers are trying to help with donations of produce after farmers markets or leaving some crop unharvested that can be collected.
Terry Daynard was our final speaker of the day.  Terry spoke about sustainable farming systems, about meeting the needs of today without compromising tomorrow, an analogy I like.
Our after dinner speaker was Ken Knox who I have to say was very thought provoking and held the audience in the palm of his hand as he went through the talk.  'If I were your age, I'd do it all differently' 

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