Category Archives: Global Focus Program

Sometimes we all need a little push! #MotivationMonday #NuffieldAg

It’s up to you folks!! I needed a push today to get moving on a few things sitting idle. As a person who wonders, wanders and questions the bigger picture of life… it comes back to this… it’s up to you! 

“Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”

William Jennings Bryan, Secretary of State, USA, 1899 from Nebraska. This photo was taken outside the Huskers Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska in July 2016 on my Nuffield Global Focus Program.

Is a Nuffield Canada Scholarship right for you? The deadline is April 30th! @NuffieldCanada #NuffieldAg

Okay, so truth be known, I applied for my 2016 Nuffield Scholarship on April 30th. Yes, I left it to the last minute to hit send, but it was after two years of following previous scholars on social media, quietly talking to those in my own network, past Canadian scholars and industry mentors, as well as the contemplation that Kathryn and I mulled over.

Is a Nuffield Scholarship right for you? More importantly are you ready for a Nuffield journey?

Here are a few factors to consider?

Is the timing right in your life? (my friends and family are doing a major eye role as they read this, wife, three kids, farm, career?) but what many don’t understand is that I was compelled to think it was okay. It’s a very personal question, but think about this; your Nuffield starts in early 2018 and goes for up to 18 months. As such, think about your life out for nearly 2.5 years from today! Just think about it! Do you have a minimum of 10 weeks, or in many cases 14+ weeks to invest in yourself and the agriculture industry outside of your farm or agriculture based career?

Do you have a meaningful topic? If you are about to invest time and money, are you passionate about your subject matter? Your passion needs to persevere through the interview process, but motivate you to dig deeper and ask the hard questions, at the same time as people questioning your motives. Take my topic for example, examining our supply managed commodities to free market thinkers in the Southern Hemisphere. Or convincing the majority of the world that turkey is a great protein to consume!

Are you resourceful? The easy question is bringing cash to the table. In truth, the Scholarship provides a ticket to the world, but my goal was to maximize the experience which consequently did the same for my budget, with zero regret I might add! The reality is that it costs money to travel and for me, I chose the Global Focus Program which took nearly 7 weeks alone. In addition to travel, it was also about additional farm labour and child care for my family and ensuring the balance of life remains intact.

Are you in a positive space; mind and body, to step up and be a leader within your area of expertise and shoulder responsibility for the extended task at hand? It is exciting ‘winning the award’, but planning and coordination are key to long term success. I can’t even say that I am the expert as I haven’t finished my travel, let alone the report. However, I can attest to the time and challenges which are dedicated to executing a very independent project.

Lastly, are you ready for a journey filled with once in a lifetime experiences, meeting new people and developing new friends, being challenged and challenging others on their agricultural beliefs, and allowing your mind to be opened?  If so than it is not too late to hit SEND!

If you are still curious, check out, or follow along @clairdoan

The Influence of Change in Agriculture; My Nuffield Australia Tour #NuffieldAg

The past week was filled with conversation, exploration and laughter as I experienced first hand, Australian hospitality and culture. However the term ‘change’ best relates to my agricultural visits as each business has experienced varying degrees of change within their farm; bare in mind, change is not always bad. 

I began my week with a visit to Wade and Nicky Mann of Roses2Go, a greenhouse flower and fruit farm on the Central Coast. Both Nuffield alumni of 2016 and 2015 respectively, I have long been intrigued by their story of emigrating to Australia 15 years ago in search of a better life for their family after instability in their native Zimbabwe. I envy their perseverance and ability to adapt to change which wasn’t planned, but rather thrust upon them. The conversation we had about their combined enthusiasm of connecting to their consumers and growing a natural crop was a great way to start my week. I left our conversation being challenged to look at my business and to have confidence that sometimes change is difficult but to embrace it and shape your future and not have it determine your destiny. 

Staying on Mangrove Mountain, I was hosted for two days by Bernadette Mortensen and her family. With the sounds of little voices, it felt like home with constant chatter and excitement of a foreigner in the house. Bernadette farms with her parents Joe and Carmen and sister Andrea Galea. Their story of change infiltrates their business in a couple of ways; firstly the family was proactive in switching their large chicken broiler farm to outdoor access, free range production. This diversification was encouraged by their long term poultry processor as a way to differentiate in the market. As Joe pointed out, he could see the necessity to conform in an effort with reasonable scale to participate in a long term grower relationship. 

Given the location of their farm to a high mix of urban and rural neighbours, this ‘green’ way of farming serves as a negative as well; with poultry expansion in mind; Bernadette was declined the opportunity to build several more chicken sheds, instead she harnessed this energy for her 2015 Nuffield research; as such it is evident in the families passion for poultry the limitations they face from their neighbours and local council. It will be interesting to see the future of their farm, be it the avocados recently planted or another enterprise altogether.

Heading west over the Great Divide,  I called upon Rob Peffer in Molong. Rob works in a family corporation marketing eggs from 130,000 laying hens under the Canobolas Eggs brand; a combination cage, floor and aviary type production. Like any direct marketing firm, evolving with consumer needs is important, however for me, the essence of change revolved around the deregulation of the egg sector over 20 years ago. The Peffer family was faced with multiple decisions of the time, including that if developing their own regional brand despite the vast number of farmers who exited the market or chose to contract with a handful of large graders. As Rob spoke, change will continue to be part of their business in this highly competitive market.

Is I travelled south, Luke Mancini his brother Xavier and parents Sam and Liz welcomed me to their farm. As my first true introduction to flood irrigation, I soon realized how critical the system and water security is to the viability of their farm. I was fascinated to hear Sam’s experience as first generation Italian immigrants to the area and how their business evolved. 

The Mancini family business continues to change and adapt for the future. Past decisions to diversify into olives and grapes 20 years ago proved good decisions of the time. But today, as cotton genetics improve, coupled with a strong market, additional acreage of this high intensity crop continues to be a guiding force for now. But any family business wouldn’t be settled until the next generation is integrated into the farm. However as Luke and Sam toured me through the area; the one constant variable that inflicts change is water; it’s availability and consequently its price!

My last farm visit I would like to highlight is that of John and Michelle Keely of Cohunna. Operated as a family farm with their son Harrison, I was impressed at the dairying intensity of Northern Victoria. Like most dairy farms, John toured me through their farms and explained how the farm has grown and evolved with time. Again, water represents about half of the total real estate investment on farm, these channels are truly the ‘river of life’. Fascinated by the water flow, control and manipulation from the Murray River, the farm is fed through these channels which are perhaps more work than milking the cows themselves in finding a balance in supply of feed without the overuse of this limited resource. 

However aside from water, a key challenge faced by Australian dairy farmers is milk price! Unfortunately certain milk companies in Australia made poor decisions, ones that involved mismanagement of milk stocks and others around milk price manipulation. As such, the Keelys recently chose to invest in a new milk processing relationship, one that will provide the management, price and stability that farmers expect. Change is reflected in making decisions to react and better position the farm for the future. 

In addition to changes on farm, I was pleased to spend two days with large agribusiness firms, Baiada and Woolworths, learning about their poultry business. Intrigued about market connectivity, they were able to shed light about market decisions and how they affect farmers like myself.  As I will soon begin to draw conclusions on my own Nuffield report, the process by which decisions are made at this level, have an over riding affect on the success and profitability of the industry. 

Despite my blog pertaining to the more formal learnings of the week, I want to point out that my time, hospitality and social engagement with my hosts was a highlight! I truly appreciate the time and conversation shared, particularly over Easter Weekend.

Leadership: Courage & Responsibility 

Leadership In Action!

What is a ‘Leader’? It’s a word that creates images of awe inspiring people from lives past to current people labelled with such title; but lack any of the qualities we deem valuable or socially responsible. We most certainly do not need to aspire to carry such a title, yet we all bare responsibility to our own leadership in our everyday lives, be it to our children, local community groups and professionally in our career and industry sectors. 

The subject of ‘Leadership’ struck me last weekend at a retirement celebration for my longest serving and highly motivating manager at National Bank; Denis Boudreau retired after 29 years. A man who stood just over five feet, four inches tall with English as a language he learned after turning 40 years old; demanded the full attention of any room with his boisterous personality and desire to be front and centre at every event and meeting. I most certainly don’t exhibit the extroverted characteristic, but rather I truly valued his positive, ‘can do’ attitude. Denis has a passion to excel and motivate others by encouraging his people and working as a constant advocate for their goals and that of creating his own corporate culture. Denis had the courage to always speak up! If it wasn’t for his commitment to bringing National Bank Agriculture to Ontatio, I would not be where I am today. It’s the power of persuasion, persistence, motivation and commitment are the values I take from the years of working with Denis. 

The adage ‘you work for people, not the company’ is alive and well in many workplaces. Certainly in my current role, I encourage sharing our corporate culture and values with my team, but I also know people are directly motivated by their managers and peers, as such this perpetuates responsibility and adds pressure to being the best person everyday, not just a manager, but a leader. At the same time, my team shines with individual leaders who step up each and everyday to not only do their job, but go beyond to coach, advise and influence clients and peers.

But leadership is not only in corporate environments, for me it starts at home, most people call it parenting. This is the most influential role I will ever play in life. I’m fortunate this is a shared role with my wife Kathryn, but the daily actions, large or small never go unnoticed. It is the most rewarding, yet challenging role in life. 

All influencers carry varying responsibility, however when I reflect on the leaders that influence my family’s life; it’s our extended family, selfless skating coaches, teachers and childcare providers to name a few who unknowingly build character in their young followers.

In the current political light; influencers Trudeau, Wynne & Trump may not reflect our personal values, however we allow labels to be applied including that of ‘leader’. However with any title, the power we grant is only as strong as the accountability we expect. But with every great leader, it is about knowing their strengths yet acknowledging other factors require greater support. Too often leaders are expected to be masters of every subject matter. As followers we generate feelings of  reluctance when their weaknesses appear; yet like any team, we should hold hope in their ability to assemble people with complementing skills to support the broader needs of their peers. 

Finally, as I reflect on the notion of leadership and how it has affected my life, I encourage you to reflect on those that impact your life and more importantly the lives you may be impacting, knowingly or not as a leader. Everyday it bares great responsibility yet takes courage to lead, labeled or not!

How much do you want to know about your food? A turkey farmer’s voice #chooseCDNturkey

As a turkey farmer it is important to be able to share our family farm story.   Talking about how we grow and care for our turkeys is important to me, because I am proud of what we do and most of all, love eating turkey with my family. With the likes of social media, our community and even within our family it is not hard to be a part of the conversation or see the many posts about our birds and farm. However last night I took the opportunity to view the W5 program on CTV called ‘Fowl Business’ where our industry has been criticized for our handing of live turkeys from the farm to plate, mostly through the shackling and live stunning process at slaughter. My initial reaction was more mixed than I had anticipated, given our industry is directly impacted by consumer perceptions and influenced by media; perhaps there was some truth to this story.

I encourage you to watch this footage where the program relies on a ‘whistle blower’ from Mercy for Animals; an organization whose main purpose is to convert people into veganism. I could focus on the inaccuracies and clear bias presented by this organization as there were many, with an effort that W5 counterbalanced by the famous Temple Grandin, or focus on the food itself and how consumers connect to their meals which I think is more effective, long term. As a farmer, the company implicated in the report was Lilydale, a Sofina Foods owned company; a sister firm to the buyer of most of our birds.

To clarify a couple of points first; I take great issue with undercover employees, with direct motives to identify irregularities in meat processing systems while knowingly be supported by Mercy For Animals. As well, the Lilydale employee, who was referenced a number of times, should most certainly be reprimanded and I am sure no longer works for the firm based on his actions and general lack of concern for the animals. However, in reality we are always looking for the exception where rules are broken and people are not respecting the care and compassion for the animals.

However, the reality is the entire meat sector suffers from a similar crisis; their business of transforming a living animal into food, which for most people is not a nice process to watch! Sure, we all love the end product on the BBQ, but connecting consumers to where their food comes from stops short of the animal leaving the farm. Even as a farmer, after my turkeys are loaded on the truck, it is truly not my responsibility to what happens to them afterwards. What I do consider is ensuring that as close to 100% of the birds and meat were of superior quality as possible. As turkey farmers, I have personally undergone safe handling and loading of turkeys courses, not to mention our on farm food safety protocols, which include all animals be respected and those suffering must be immediately and humanly euthanized on farm.

Recently, farm commodity boards through media campaigns have been launched to share farmer stories, bring consumers, the media and influencers on farm to share real stories of the people that truly care about our food system. I truly believe that we have a great story to tell on farm, but it begs the question, how much information is enough and how much is too much?

As a farmer, my primary goal is to raise healthy and productive turkeys; I do everything possible to maintain a positive environment for them including nutrition, housing, bedding and even medication if it is required, the last thing I like seeing on my farm are sick or dead birds. So when it comes to slaughtering the turkeys, it is a difficult sight to watch; I don’t like blood in general and there are different sights, smells, movement and noises that come with the slaughter and processing of livestock. So like other consumers, the slaughter part of food production is never talked about, let alone seeing video footage of this stage. To me, the ‘Fowl Business’ highlights the fact that living animals die for us to eat them, let alone the issues they highlighted of the perceived mishandling.

This past April, I had the privilege of visiting the largest turkey processors in Germany. It is estimated that 60,000 turkeys are handled per day, which equates to the entire Canadian production in about 7 months at this one facility. Through using controlled atmospheric stunning, the facilities operated with utmost efficiency. When I spoke to the marketing manager, I asked “What message do you want me leaving the visit with?” His response was simple, that we value animal welfare from farm to plate and that their facility employs the latest technology which promotes efficient output of quality meat products. The visit in Germany left me with one on the most positive feelings regarding turkey meat, in that it was not a stomach turning, ethically questioning experience!

As an industry, I am interested to learn how Lilydale/Sofina will react to this news report, at the same time look forward to an overall industry reaction as I do believe it may be turkey today, but can easily be hogs or beef or chicken tomorrow. Yet at the same time, as a farmer, I am proud of our accomplishments on farm, yet we will only be successful in the future if we are part of an entire value chain that is effective at communicating our standards and expectations to all consumers, at the same time respecting their potential views on humane treatment of animals through the entire lifecycle.

The CTV show W5 called ‘Fowl Business’ continues to irritate me by relying animal rights group spies and unfortunate employees that either lack training and demonstrate unacceptable behaviors to speak about the humane issues of turkey. At the same time there are reasons we pay for Canadian Food Inspection Agency, work within organized marketing boards and abide by every increasing animal welfare protocols on farm that must work as succinct systems. I willingly continue to share our farm story in efforts of helping connect people with their food. Unfortunately delivering the message around the transformation from alive to dead is a difficult story to comprehend, but we must remember our food story does not end at the farm nor start at the grocery store.

When Nuffield Comes to Washington,Watch Out #NuffieldAg

Team India in the Ag Chambers

At the Capitol Building

Okay, so maybe we were only in Washington for a few days, but the formal agenda bombarded our brains with briefings, history and political information,  yet we managed to take in several major sites of the city, get a vibe for the area and even have conversations about US gun culture and Donald versus Hillary. 

I can’t even begin to explain US agriculture policy other than to say ‘it’s complicated’. While US government officials seek to find balance between supporting farmers through crop insurance and various margin protection schemes compared to the enormous funding of their supplemental food assistance program, more previously known as Food Stamps. 

In a country where bigger is better, extremism around consumption of goods and the confidence associated with being worldly experts on agriculture, the Farm Bill allocates a staggering $80 Billion to the food stamp program, in addition to the 35 million school aged children that participate in breakfast and lunch programs!

It’s not about malnutrition, but rather obesity and the issue of providing access to nutrious food.  In a world where we have been challenged to feed globe, I think we need to make sure we feed our neighbours first!

But understanding how decisions are forged in the US, it’s the lobby groups which demonstrated their ability to influence and suede policy makers. Although we met with two general farm lobby groups, Farm Bureau and Farmers Union, they each spoke about needs represent farmers, however specific commodity groups are sure to present on Capital Hill. 

Although only a brief meeting, Congressman Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican and Chair of the House Committee on Agriculture, met our group and touched on decision making processes, forming policy and how the American farmers makes their voice heard in Washington. It’s not everyday that a Congressman takes the time to meet with folks like us, however through the power of Nuffield, we wre granted this access. In addition, meeting with Honorable Michael Scuse, Acting Deputy Secretary of Agrculture at USDA provided direct access into their priorities.

Travelling with a group of largely Australian farmers, we were hosted by their embassy where they assembled representatives from Ireland, New Zealand, Australia in addition to the first Canadian I’ve seen in five weeks, Mike Hawkins, an Agriculture Canada diplomat to speak about relationships and working with the US. Being the only Canadian, I have taken the heat on our protectionist approach to dairy and poultry, so it was nice to hear other countries have their sensitive products too. At the same time it provides context of our American partners to the south, as we are 10% the size in population and economic capacity. At the embassy, it would only be with a bit of Aussie humour that the reception hall was decorated in all things Donald and Hillary in making light of the upcoming election.

Additional speakers on borrowing money through the Farm Credit system and meeting with the Farm Journal Foundation and a lecture from former Kansas Senator Chris Steineger provided perhaps the most controversial conversation of the visit.  Just because the constitution is steeped in history and written 200 years ago, does not make it right to never adapt or change a countries obsession with guns. The Senator tried to justify his point about how government should not interfere with people rights, thus the right to own firearms. Fortunately we had some Democratic balance in our terrific host, Jean Lonie with this conversation and her amazing organizational skills this week.

No visit to DC would be complete without the sites, sounds and some Washington culture. With our one free day and 30 Nuffield scholars on the loose, we hiked, biked and made our way to the White House, memorials, Arlington Cemetery and museums.  Washington was a great few days to catch up with friends old and new!

Photo Bombed by Ray Hunt, John Keely and Adam Coffey

Jean Lonie


The White House

Nuffielders on tour

John, Adam & myself

City tour on rental bikes

View of the White House

Arlington Cemetary

Raising the Flag

A Gastronomical & Agricultural Experience Collide in France #NuffieldAg

Cheese and more cheese at Rungis Market

French cuisine!

I thought we had tested our senses in India, Qatar and Turkey, but France was a true pleasure in experiencing everything that a European country has to offer. My expectation of visiting a mature agricultural economy was exceeded, not because the French often seem remiss or disconnected about farming practices, but rather tradition and history reeked in almost all aspects of food and farming life which severely contrasted our first four weeks of global travels.

To be honest, the first couple of days after we ‘extracted’ ourselves from Turkey, were a real treat to head south and taste the best of French wine, grapes and spectacular food. It also helped the fact our group known affectionately as ‘Team India’ has forged strong bonds of comradership, friendship and a passion for making the most of our global program. 

Flax harvesting

Flax processing into linen

We just scratched the surface of French agriculture, spending the majority of our formal time in the north of France in the Normandy region. Perhaps the pivotal visit of the week was learning about transforming flax into linen. The agronomical aspects of this 100 day crop, then laid out for another 40 days to allow the retting or breaking down of the cellular stalks before processing was interesting, but a key word resonated from this visit ‘romantic’. Linen production is romantic because of the way it is grown, harvest and processes that involve luck and fortune of the weather and a term used by the French, themselves.

Only in France have I ever heard that word, romantic, used in conjunction with food, fuel and fibre production. The commonality of romanticism in agriculture also relates to the idea that 70% of crops are marketed through age old cooperatives or that a desire to modernize crop production has been burdened by social aspects of farming. We heard more than once that the French have a high regard for food production and farmers, it’s just that people don’t want to see large, modern and progressive farms. It was a running joke that French farmers are not afraid to strike and protest to stand up for their perceived rights. 

Vast acres of wheat in the north if France

Laure , 2016 Nuffield France Scholar

The north, a large arable farming area with significant hectares of wheat, sugar beet, potatoes, corn, barley, canola and flax grown in the fields.  Impressive swaths of land graced the countryside with considerable field sizes and more flat than I was expecting. Unfortunately, French farmers have been plagued with excessive rainfall since early May with nearly daily rainfalls totalling more than an extra 300mm of rain to date. With barley and wheat harvest just beginning, typical yields of nearly 10t/ha are expected to be nearly halved this harvest season, not to mention the four passes of fungicide applied to the crops. 

I was taken aback by the strong cooperative structure whereby farmers may be part of separate cooperatives for cereals, sugar beets, flax, alfalfa and even equipment sharing cooperative schemes. The opportunity in group buying and selling of good theoretically gives market strength however a few farmers we met felt the cooperatives were becoming too focussed on their own viability versus filling all available markets and met the needs of average farmers and not those being more progressive. 

Charolais cattle

Nice line of equipment

Seeing the best and most innovative sectors is interesting, but I value meeting average farmers who embody the everyday life of French farmers. We met with a few farmers who seemed to farm the 200 to 350 ha of crop land, these included Michele and Catherine that also raised Charolais cattle, a breed that makes up about 20% of the French beef herd. Common discussions with them and other farmers will see their subsidy payments of close to 300€ per hectare reduce by about 50% over the next couple of years. In addition, 2016 is a year of transition outside of quota based sugar beet production to that of the open market. Having said that, impressive lines of equipment seemed to be stored away in the storage sheds for their short windows of harvest.

We were granted a full tour of the Massey Ferguson plant in Beauvais, where most large tractors are built for the Euopean market. Any French visit wouldn’t be complete without a four course lunch at Massey where Marketing Manager, Campbell Scott spoke about their commitment to agriculture and in particular youth and educational commitment.  

Rungis Market

We wrapped up our French experience the way we started, with food! A visit to the worlds largest mixed food market that sees over €9Billion of meat, poultry, fish, cheese, fruit, vegetables, flowers and anything else you can eat at Rungis Market. It was an incredible site of food produced locally and internationally that is sold at this wholesale market. 

My blog would not be complete without mentioning the food we actually consumed. Wow is the only word I can use to describe the essence of a food culture as a part of almost every interaction. The fois gras, pate, baguettes, duck, beef, poultry served with wine and almost always ended by cheese is enough to make anyone into a foodie.

Nuffield France did a thoughtful job of hosting our group, including Laure Figeureu and her family that hosted an authentic French BBQ, Philppe Quignon allowing us to dig soil on his farm, Thierry de Fremont, a character in himself who escorted us for the week, Benoit Pesles current chair of Nuffield France and Romain Vacherot who visited Rungis Market with our group. A big thank you to my fellow French Nuffielders who made this leg of Global Focus Program not only memorable, but gave a fascinating perspective to European food production. 

Group shot at alfalfa drying co-op

Monet’s turkey art!

Qatar, Where Money Flows Like Oil #NuffieldAg: A Video Blog

Qatar, Because they can.

My Nuffield journey made a pleasant stop in Qatar. Our four days in this wealthy nation demonstrated what is possible when money flows freely.  Combined with travelling over Ramadan, the middle eastern culture gave a glimpse of their relationship with food in this country that relies on imports.

Given the past couple of hectic weeks, we were fortunate to spend and afternoon experiencing desert life!

India – Cooperative Farming: Social Responsibility or Capitalistic Hierarchy, #NuffieldAg #IndiaGFP 

Buffalloes & Cows Everywhere

Women, key to agriculture success in India

How does a rural based economy in a country where the population exceeds 1.3 billion people function? The Indian model is largely based around the cooperative model. As a Canadian, I think of co-ops in forms of supplier/processor relationships, based more around business opportunity for growers compared to the sole option for farmers. For Indian farmers, their government set out to develop their model over 50 years ago as a mechanism to provide stability to rural villages, after all, if you only have a few acres or one cow, individuals do not demand market power.

Travelling from bottom to top of India, we came across many forms of cooperatives including all forms of production, cotton, corn, milk, sugar cane to name a few. These cooperatives were for the most part based around the geography of the local village. With each group, came their own level of politics, elected representatives and overlaid the class system at play. In other words, farmers aren’t just farmers, some are seen as superior due to their pedigree, which essentially flexes control over others. 

As seen first hand, our first introduction to the cooperative model was back in the village of Kothapalli where the water project was initiated by the research institute. The local farmers pool their resources and rely on a commodity buyer (middleman) to visit their village and arrange purchase of their goods with small farms averaging between 3 to 5 acres of land. The cooperative model also offers opportunity for non land owning villagers to work employment, such as receiving, grading and managing delivery of product. 

A dairy collection site

A secondary benefit of cooperatives is the willingness to work together. The Indian government is slowly realizing the true value women bring to society and economy, they now provide mico financing to women’s groups. A great example of empowering women through cooperation was a group that purchases grain distillers from a local brewery everyday, in turn it sells back to farmers to improve dairy productivity, while providing employment for local ‘feed sales rep’.

Sugar cane

Our first feel good cooperative visit was offset by travelling to meet in the village of Valsad. To be clear, organized buying units ensure constant supply of sugar cane is grown for the local processing plant is important because it does guarantee purchasing local. As unequivocally spoken, all profits are supposedly returned to farmers, however driving through the back roads of India, our host Ramesh insisted many of these farmers will have never seen a foreigner. When driving into the sugar processing yard, we drove past many large Toyota and Mercedes vehicles to meet the chairman of the co-op. 

Cameras and more cameras

TV interview on Canadian ag, sugar & organics

A kind and gracious host in Valsad, we were welcomed with flowers, drinks, food, a camera crew and photographers; a very strange situation. Upon seeing first hand the test plots of a beautiful crop of sugar cane, one grown ‘organically’ and the other conventional. I use the quotations, because given there are few organic certifying bodies in India, the huge labour force to manually remove weeds, but a need to still use commercial fertilizers, I am personally challenged by this notion of organic. 

In speaking with a group of farmers, we were known as International Scientists’ here to look at organic production in conjunction with their newly launched ‘organic fertilizer’ business. You see, the cooperative power was working at full strength, telling the uneducated farmers what and how to grow their crop, use their new fertilizer product and essentially develop ‘close enough to organic’ sugar to be potentially exported. Keep in mind, these are all my opinions, but our Nuffield Team termed a phrase ‘Gotcha’, meaning one person breaks the circle of trust and effectively takes advantage of other people. In the case of the sugar cooperative, money and profit flow outside the cooperative to those with influence. In addition, as a Nuffield Scholar, I had a ‘Gotcha’ moment, knowing full well our visit was interpreted to locals for corporate betterment. Again, in India this visit for me became not about sugar cane, but rather the distribution of power, wealth and influence dictating what and how things will be done.

Amul Dairy Cooperative, Anand India

Meeting with Amul, India’s largest dairy cooperative

Amul, India’s largest milk processor was our third example of cooperative marketing. Given that most of India’s dairy farmers own three or four cows and buffaloes, collecting and distributing milk is no small feat. Nearly 70% of all milk is sold farmer to consumer directly, only 30% sold through dairies of which 20% goes through co-ops and the balance through companies. At the Anand, India site, they represented 680,000 farmers of the 2.5 million farmers in the state, 1.3 million cows and buffaloes, utilize 1220 village collection sites as well as 35 commercial farms with over 100 cows! Amul has 17 sites in India similar to the one visited.

Each collection site or village, acts as their own cooperative, gathering, cooling, testing components and paying the farmers. In addition, each farmer must own shares of Amul to ship milk, the returns are in line with the fixed price of milk set out by the government as part of their food security system. Known as the White Revolution, dairy cooperatives were established in 1964 to ensure fair market pricing. Today, at the Anand site, they collect 2.5 million litres per day, but the coop as a whole, averages 18 million litres per day, filling 3% of the Indian market.

17 sites around India

Indian fluid milk sold at fixed price for everyone’s access

At Amul, farmers are paid a base price, bonus and dividend based in share ownership. Interestingly, the dividend may be paid out by way of a new pail, milking equipment or money. The cooperative model is alive and well, because through Amul they have access to breeding technicians and veterinarians on staff, as well, farmers can opt to sell their young stock and repurchase if needed. One major issue is ‘the sacred cow’, literally, cows are considered sacred (bulls and buffaloes are not sacred), so if infertility strikes, farmers cannot slaughter the cow, therefore it can majorly increase the cost of production, hence the number of stray cows and use of Buffaloes. Arguably the outward signs of cooperative success were evident, but more so the upside opportunity because if the size of unregulated milk markets is huge in India.

To refer back to my tittle, India – Cooperative Farming: Social Responsibility or Capitalistic Hierarchy, my experience is clear, organizing millions of small scale farmers have been effective and will continue to be so in the future, but as economies evolve, wealth accumulates and the divide between the rich and poor widen, the system is open for interpretation and ultimately abuse. For me, evolution of these cooperatives will come through involvement, education and a desire for the upper class to raise the wealth of the peasant farmer and not take advantage of their position of power, because it is easily done.

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