Picture this. It is snowing, the temperature is -12*C and it is October. You are wearing business clothes and heading to a conference, using a yellow school bus to get from your hotel to the conference venue. Over 70 young people, all under the age of 40, have congregated to discuss the future of agriculture, agriculture events and the challenges facing agricultural communities across the world. Where are you? You are at the 2018 Royal Agricultural Societies of the Commonwealth (RASC) conference in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada!
On the 27th October 2018 I flew out of Sydney on a 15 hour flight destined for Canada. As a recipient of a scholarship from the Agricultural Societies Council of New South Wales, I was heading to the 28th Commonwealth Agriculture Conference as an Australian delegate. But, first things first, I spent a few days traveling around Banff and Lake Louise taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the Rocky Mountains. For only the second time in my life, I was experiencing snow falling and couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
Peyto Lake. – Can you see the dogs head? I had a stunning snow day to view Peyto Lake, Lake Louise, Johnston Canyon and the Bow Valley Parkway!
Before the tour and conference started, I added a few extra days of sightseeing through the Rocky Mountains. I enjoyed a snow day and here I am on my way down the hill from viewing Peyto Lake.
After a 4 hour drive from Banff to Edmonton, it was time to meet the team that would make up the pre-conference tour contingent. A group of around 50 people of varying ages and backgrounds, from various countries and having various connections to agriculture made up the group of keen agriculturalists. We were privileged to visit some fantastic enterprises throughout the tour and meet some innovating and exciting people. On the first day visited a beef farm that calves down around 500 cows in the height of the Canadian winter and utilises a barn to assist with their winter nights that can reach -40*C.
The pre-conference tour contingent at Lewis Farms
Following our property visit, we were able to tour the only plant in Canada that produces beef patties for McDonald’s burgers. Over 3 million patties are made on site every day and they all contain 100% Canadian beef. Following this stop, we had lunch at McDonald’s to sample the burgers made from the patty’s we had just seen. A quick trip to Jasper for some tourist activities, including a swim in the hot springs, a private tour of on the Jasper Sky Tram, an evening with the Jasper Planetarium and lunch at the Fairmont Hotel with lake and mountain views.
Some of the pre-conference tour contingent enjoying the snow at the top of the Jasper Skytram. For a few of the Aussies, it was the first time seeing snow. Although we couldn’t see the spectacular views, we made up for it with snow angels, snow ball fights and trying to slide down the hill!! Our snow day in Jasper was an awesome bonding experience for the group and helped to create some special friendships which not only lasted the length of the conference but for many years to come.
The second tour day included a trip to visit a $50 million, farmer owned, fruit and vegetable wholesaler who source produce from across North and Central America. The farmers who own the business receive market price for their produce sold through the business during the year, then a percentage of profit at the end of the year. Following this, we attended the Rock Ridge Dairy, where 900 goats are milked every day in a specialised milking barn. Along with the home grown milk, the family buys in local milk to produce a range of goats and cow’s milk and soft cheeses.
Dueces Greenhouses. Here we have a new section of cucumbers that have been in the system a few small weeks.
The afternoon was spent at Deuces Greenhouses where 11ac of Greenhouses allow the family owned business to produce summer vegetables in the height of the Canadian winter, and therefore attract high premiums during periods of low supply and high demand. Our last day of the pre-tour featured the Canadian grains industry, with a trip to Galloway Seeds, a family owned seed cleaning business. Cleaning around 18t of grain per hour, and removing over 99% of impurities, the company has mastered the 4 step cleaning process.
John Deere, the international symbol for anything green! This big rig was parked up at Galloway Seeds.
One bank of the silos used at Galloway Seeds for storing grain before cleaning.
After lunch we visited the Rig Hand Distillery, a small company who are specialising in local grown alcohol. They source most of their inputs from within 20 miles of the distillery, and utilise local season produce such as potatoes, garlic, raspberries, wheat and beeswax. Each night after the tour, we would find ourselves at different functions and mingling with the delegates from across the globe. These connections will last us a lifetime and have not only provided holiday destinations around the world, but also provided links between people who wish to make global agriculture better!
The conference started with some sessions dedicated to the Next Generation contingent. We had presentations from a range of experts and agriculturalists around the world that opened up our way of thinking and strengthened our passion from sustainable agricultural production. We were challenged and motivated, encouraged and grew as professionals. One of the most interesting presentations for me was from Professor David Hughes, or as he is better known Dr. Food. A thought-provoking presentation from Dr. Food has had me thinking about the future of agriculture for the last 4 weeks, and I have added some thoughts below.
- An increase in population of over 2 billion people by 2050, where 1.6 billion will be of Muslim or Hindu faith. What will these consumers prefer? What will be their protein of choice? What does this mean for our current, and future, farmers?
- Africa will double population by 2050 (1 billion to 2 billion), and India, Bangladesh and Pakistan will increase by 0.5b each. Most Eastern European countries will decrease, so what impacts will this have on dynamics in-country? Who will care for their ageing?
- Population growth is expected to be concentrated to cities. The 10th most populated city in China has the same GDP as the whole of Norway, or double that of NZ!
- By 2050, China will be importing 6 million tonnes of animal products and 30% of global soy production. What does this mean for the rest of the world’s consumers? What impact will this have on protein demand worldwide?
- Asian families typically sit down to a 12 course meal whereas westernised families sit down to meat and 3 veg. What does this mean for exporter’s worldwide? Do we need to put more emphasis on how our end consumer cooks and eats? What do they value? Just because chicken breast is the preferred cut in Australia doesn’t mean it is in any Asia country.
- Protein sources. As producers and scientists, we see fish and red meat as two separate items. However consumers see them as competing protein sources. Should we be considering fish as a competing source when we market it as producers?
- The future of food and protein. Are we moving to an era that sees red meat and fish take a step back to insects, meatless meat or maggots? Or will we see an increase in these products being used as a protein source for the animals that we use as a protein source?
The main conference joined the Next Generation delegates with the more senior delegates from across the globe. We heard from Princess Anne, and participated in sessions including:
- Bees, Berries, Bars and Beer – young entrepreneurs who are forging their way in the agricultural industry in Canada
- Management Show Topic – Managing the complexity of agricultural events on a large scale.
- Bud Mercer – the future of special events. A perspective gained through the planning for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
- Jeffery Fitzpatrick-Stilwell – Sustainability in beef and what it means for McDonald’s from a sourcing and processing perspective.
- Social License Agriculture – Advocacy for agriculture. Should we protect people from the unpleasant or show the whole agricultural industry as it stands?
- Agritainment panel – From the Calgary Stampede in Canada to the Kranji Countryside Association in Singapore, we learned how different dynamics lead to different methods of keeping crowds engaged and entertained
- Peterson Farm Brothers – How using parodies of well-known songs can create opportunities to educate the world on agriculture and farming
The opportunity to attend the RASC Agricultural Conference in Edmonton, Canada, has reinvigorated my passion for agriculture and agricultural events. It has provided me with networks across the globe, containing people from all backgrounds and all ages. The conference introduced me to a range of experts and entrepreneurs who are forging their own path in global agriculture, and they have encouraged me that I have the ability to achieve my aims in agriculture. I have established connections in Australia, and look forward to working with more young people across our country, for example strengthening the connection of the youth committees of the RAS of NSW and RASV.
A group of Next Generation Delegates – including agriculturalists from Australia, England, Wales and New Zealand! “
If anyone would like to know any more on the RASC Agricultural Conference or my experiences in Canada, I am more than happy to have a chat.