2017; My Continuing Mission To Connect  Food, Farming & Consumers #NuffieldAg #EatTogether

Okay, so maybe 2017 is only 23 hours old and everyone has professed their goals and positive outlook for the year ahead, but how can we not help but celebrate our blessings of family, friendship, personal, emotional and spiritual wealth we celebrated over the holidays. I debated about a blog post highlighting my last year, and it may come yet, but I was struck by a very simple commercial tonight which I wanted to share:

#EatTogether Video to Watch – Connecting Food & You

As much as we all journey on individual roads, I have most enjoyed the personal opportunity to share with you some of the people, places and stories I’ve encountered along the way of my Nuffield Scholarship learning about food and our farming systems.

However, I have been left with many unanswered questions about how and why food is consumed and the relationships, or lack thereof we have with it.

I’m not suggesting you all become ‘foodies’ and radicalize your viewpoints to extremist demands like veganism, but rather consider where your food comes from, who was involved from farm to fork at the same time as reflect on the needs of nourishment, quality and food wastage.

I look to complete my studies and bring back my conclusions on that support a dynamic poultry sector in Canada, but what I know now, is that people continue to lose focus and interest on food, it’s safety and the diverse range of food production that comes right here from Canada for our every changing and culturally diverse country. So to 2017, I look forward to talking food and what it means to you!

Clair Doan,

Where Turkey Is On Everyone’s Plate & Mind @MinnesotaTurkey #NuffieldAg #EatMoreTurkey

Fargo? Yes that is correct, Fargo, North Dakota was my destination for a two day conference where the weather was a balmy -20 degrees with wind chill more frigid than I would prefer, however the warmth of the turkey sector from the mid-west regions of North Dakota and Minnesota more than offset the outdoor climate as they celebrated the 70th anniversary of the poultry meeting.

The conference theme ‘Where Every Connection Matters’ was a fitting focus as my goal of learning, networking and connecting with farmers, industry partners and understanding the dynamics of US turkey markets; stemming from the fact that American’s consume twice the amount of turkey that Canadians eat.

Through the power of Twitter, I connected with Lara Durben (@MNGobbleGal), Communications Director with the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association suggested I attend this regional event with the purpose of connecting with growers, at the same time as having the opportunity to share my experience as Canadian turkey farmer for their association members as part of their leadership training and retreat. It was great to have an association with independent farmers, contract growers, integrated corporations and processors, in addition to industry partners such as lenders, all around one table talking about the future of the Minnesota turkey industry. Given that Minnesota is the largest turkey producing state in the US, boasting 450 farmer producing over 46 million turkeys per year; far greater than that entire Canadian production.

Acting as an industry ambassador can be a daunting task, but my presentation was very well received and created a lot of conversation around the relative size of the Canadian markets with head scratching questions about the low, but stable returns with quota. The farmers marveled at the concept of smaller, independent operations, yet with their capitalistic focus on growth, challenged me on how long our supply managed system could last. As I clearly pointed out, it is not about one system being better than another, but rather how the Canadian sector evolved 50 years ago.

There were shared challenges and opportunities in the room; for one, this industry has lived, learned and for the most part, recovered from Avian Influenza outbreak of 2015. When asked about other concerns; a remarkable answer was ‘less government involvement in our farms’ which I principally support, however our Canadian system is 100% dependent on continued support and lobbying. We both shared concerns over consumer preferences and lack of connectivity to farms, supported by the rapid acceleration of raising turkeys without antibiotics, which has far greater uptake compared to Canada. I did challenge the group on the raised without antibiotics as a true dichotomy; how can the same consumer want cheap food, be looking for convenient, often processed food such as ‘turkey ham’ (which I still don’t totally understand) at the same time as wanting ‘raised without antibiotics’? To me, it does not make sense, however I do believe based on my travels, that the US consumer is perhaps the most disconnected buyers of their food with the most focus on ‘convenience food’. However, in my assessment, vertical integration accelerates the ability to react, influence and meet changing consumer needs and continually bring product to market at a more rapid pace than home, that and the fact the US population is 10 times that of Canada.

The formal portion of the industry conference proceeded to be very engaging, having presented to 15 Minnesota partners, it amplified the “Where Every Connection Matters’ theme by bolstering my network within the room. Admittedly, I tend to shy away for strange settings where I literally know nobody, but a speaker on day two, Mark Deterding spoke on ‘servant leadership’ which I related back to my presentation of giving others value through sharing and supporting their sector, before asking something in return. As such, my conversations with local growers and partners has created perhaps more questions than answers during my conference visit.

However to summarize some of my findings, I reflect on the following:

The idea behind independent growers and contract farmers, having assumed that nearly all US growers worked for a large processor is in fact false, in the Minnesota market, this represents about 50% of the farms. With half the farmers owning their turkeys through to processing and the balance, which represent far more volume of birds being contract farms with the likes of Jennie-O.

I met a farmer, John, who I connected with on a common issue, that we both can suffer from ‘small farm syndrome’, despite John’s farm being about 10 times my size, it can be a challenge interacting with the large integrators, yet we both shared the understanding the consumers want and need to relate to average growers whom are able to share and instill the values of family farms to consumers and government officials alike. A farmer named Max, who is likely a few years younger than I, shared the challenges of succession planning and working with multiple generations on farm. Rob, he shared his experience of losing his flock to hens to Avian Influenza and the government measures imposed to deal with the crisis, all fascinating conversations with ‘everyday farmers’.

Still unsure if it is my naivety or lack of experience in the industry, I was surprised with not being the only Canadian in the room as a significant amount of live Canadian turkey crosses the boarder on contract with North Dakota processing plants. I question, is this an opportunity for me? Well, not entirely sure, but spending time with US turkey partners creates the atmosphere that anything is possible when focused on short term cash flow and return on capital. It is vital to understand that the US sector has come off one if it’s best years for growers, unfortunately on the back of those that suffered loss in the bird flu outbreak last year.

Again, it was the overall scale which continues to conceptually challenge me on the size of operations, in addition with Toms being raised over 20kg and hens that are routinely used for further processing compared to our Canadian expectations of being used exclusively for whole bird markets. I valued the messages of systematic efficiency from farm to plant, looking to squeeze pennies on the margin, my only hesitation on this idea is that the farmers themselves are continually squeezed.

Is there expansion in the US market? Generally I did not get the sense of new growth, however many farmers were looking at updating their sheds with new equipment, shuttering old facilities, adding new barns with concrete floors and walls to allow for the antibiotic free movement where additional space is necessary.

I appreciated the presentation and warm welcome that Carl Wittenberg provided to myself and the entire audience. Carl is the President of Protein Alliance, a turkey and protein marketing firm based in Minnesota, he spoke at length about the work which his current role of Vice President of the National Turkey Federation does in lobbying the government for support for their industry, but more so as the alliance in which nearly all turkey farm associations and processors pool resources with a national objective to promote and develop the growth of turkey consumption in the US. Now known as the Turkey Demand Project, it was earlier coined by Gary Cooper of Ohio as the 20/20 plan; increasing per capita consumption from 17lbs to 20lbs by the year 2020. It seems so simple to promote a common goal, however given the Canadian system which should seem easier to accomplish, I give the US credit for this organizing movement. I expect Turkey Farmers of Canada is well aware of such initiative, however we spend a great deal of time keeping out of province birds from moving between provincial boarders, that I think we lose sight of the long term need for collaboration and cooperation; hats of the NTF and I look forward to tracking this project as it evolves.

So as I wrap up my thoughts on my venture to Fargo and meeting with North Dakota and Minnesota industry professionals, I leave with the sense farmers are feeling very good about their 2016 year. Market growth continues to be top of mind, yet farmers are dealing with the changing landscapes of raising birds without antibiotics and fighting the consumer perception challenge, like we all face. The sheer size and total focus of processors to drive innovation is done based on market size, but also the corporate approach of Hormel Food that owns Jennie-O and their intimate knowledge of the protein sector. As well, ground turkey is where it at (or at least that’s what I’ve been told), if you can use beef, why are we using turkey?

Finally, the industry has faced profitable and unprofitable years, consolidation has occurred and farmers have adapted to working with ongoing relationships, as such we can accuse the big bad integrators of eroding on farm profits, but in this part of the country, many of these farmers operate in diversified family farming businesses where many have grown turkeys for generations and are looking to do so for years to come, why? Because they are good at what they do, have made some profits, and a full service industry of several processors, feed, equipment and support services exist here.

Finally, the quote of the day goes to Dr. Megan from Jennie-O as she compared my small farm of about 5000 birds compared to the farms with 10’s and 100’s of thousands: “Think about what you can do for biosecurity and management on a farm your size?”

Maybe that’s it… I may be small, but I have every opportunity to be a producer of the highest quality birds! Now on to connecting with the market….this is to be continued!!

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.

A Bronze Turkey…My Sign from the Nuffield God’s #Nuffieldlive #EatMoreTurkey

No doubt it has been a couple of months since my last post, but what 7 weeks away on the Global Focus Program travelling the world has taught me, is that as much as I want everything in life, some things must wait.  Okay, so in this case, I took a short break from Nuffield to focus at home and work.

I have essentially spent the last couple of months enjoying the remainder of summer and early autumn routines with my family as well as the timely return to my professional career at the bank.  I am truly blessed to have family, neighbours and co-workers who carried 100% of the responsibility while away, yet it seems as unfinished business always remained.

I was struck this morning as I walked into my office a bronze turkey caught my eye at the local boutique next to the bank, out front on the discount rack, in need of a caring home.  How could I not resist?  It now sits perched on my desk at the office.  But what it reminded me of were thoughts and obsessions over the most perfectly cooked turkey this past Thanksgiving weekend.  Not only one, but we enjoyed three Doan Family raised birds, essentially these were grown over my Nuffield GFP, so perhaps I cannot take any responsibility for their greatness, nor the cooking of these birds.

My Thanksgiving weekend was consumed with a message that Paul Kelly, of Kelly Bronze Turkey’s in the UK told me in April.  His message has stuck with me: “People often eat turkey once a year during the holidays, when they over cook and dry out the bird, it creates a negative experience of tasteless and tough turkey, therefore driving away their desire to purchase turkey at other times in the year”.  Given that the future of Canadian turkey farming is based on the growing trends of year round, valued added turkey meat, meant for grilling, substituting for BBQ steak, a leaner alternative to hamburger and a ‘super food’ that should displace salmon, I felt threatened by providing my own family and friends with an experience of poorly prepared turkey.

No worries readers, Kathryn and my extended family did a wonderful job cooking up the turkeys this year. But, had they followed the age old cook books of weight, time and temperatures, these birds would have been cooked nearly twice over causing the problematic experience that so many people face.  The over cooking issues is compounded by the ongoing fear of undercooked poultry and the risk of food poisoning from salmonella. Again, I think back to my time with Paul Kelly and how every purchaser of their premium turkey receives detailed cooking instructions and a thermometer with every bird, because their brand relies on repeat customers having a memorable experience.

I do hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, were able to spend time with family and friends, at the same time as reflecting on the wondrous availability of safe and nutritious food, grown and cared for by Canadian farmers.  As I tie this post back to my Nuffield experience, I have learned many things, but a recurring message is that we must continually engage our consumer with the messages of how and why as farmers we do what we do.

The title of my research project remains: Evaluating poultry markets to ensure Canada’s supply management system is efficient and innovative.  Now that the one day holiday ‘Thanksgiving’ has ended, it is about creating these connections to food and poultry the other 364 days of the year.




When Nuffield Becomes A Social Experiment #NuffieldAg

John, Matt, Ray, Luke, Debbie, Adam, Ben, Clair & Jess

Nine strangers, 44 days, 6 countries, shared accommodations and personalities as diverse as our farming backgrounds; this is a potential recipe for disaster. But what happened in fact was the complete opposite, a group committed to learning, experiencing and above all having fun, while making the most out of the Nuffield Global Focus Program. 

It has been a true honour travelling with this remarkable group of farmers and professionals. I’ve spent time writing about the places and meetings we’ve had, but I want to dedicate this blog to my fellow travelling partners, known as Team India as we ventured through Singapore, India, Qatar, Turkey, France and USA.

John Keely

To start, let me introduce you to the senior member of our team, John Keely. Although we loved to remind him of his age, John was truly young at heart. A dairy farmer milking 340 cows in Victoria, Australia, he left the business in good hands with his son Harrison in charge along with his father and wife Michelle.

John was nearly always the earliest riser who thrived on being on time. If it was cows or more cows, he was ready to talk, about the only thing more that John loves is his Collingwood Football team. 

What I value in John, was his life experience of growing his business, at the same time as being in very regular contact with his wife and family back home. John spoke with excitement about each of his three adult kids and I know he couldn’t wait to share the next leg of his journey with Michelle.

Adam Coffey

Adam Coffey has perhaps been the busiest of the Nuffield group. Since meeting back in March, Adam and his wife Jacynta and two young sons have not only sold their livestock in Nothern Territory Australia, but moved three thousand kilometres to Queensland, where as first generation farmers they’ve acquired their first farm. As exciting of times are at home, Adam only had a few short weeks at the new farm before departing across the world. 

Family wise, Adam and I are most similar with his kids being 5 and 2 years old, we both must have amazing wives. I really appreciate Adam’s outlook on life, an optimist that is willing to try new ideas and create a future for his family. 

What I appreciate about Adam is that he is easy going and rolled with the punches, however it was early in the trip I discovered his very short attention span with a need to keeping meetings informative, yet efficient.

Debbie McConnell

Debbie McConnell was one of two women on the journey. Originally from Northern Ireland, Debbie has a PhD and quickly became our resident research expert, particularly around dairy nutrition. Debbie currently works for the dairy levy board in England linking research with farmers. I’ve never met a person who gets genuinely excited about research, laboratories and extension work.

As well as the youngest member of the group, Debbie got everyone’s opinion on everything, whether she asked for it or not. Travelling with 7 other men, Debbie was resilient in dealing with us, or as she referred to ‘The Male Species’.

Definitely not a morning person, Debbie always came into fine form with her note taking, questioning, interviewing and genuine interest in gathering data and knowledge. I have to thank Debbie for bringing her ‘A’ game, a balance of intelligence and humour everyday.

Matt Abbott

I can now say I am friends with a banana farmer, Matt Abbott of Queensland, Australia. By far the most quiet and reserved traveller, Matt tested the competitors bananas at nearly every stop. As an athlete, it was tough to keep pace with fitness on the trip and I know he’ll be anxious to get back in form once home. Farming with his brother, Matt is engaged to be married to Naomi next year.

Matt was full of surprises on the trip and by far on our last night when he and his compadre Ray made a memorable video, highlighting his humour and acting skills by recreating moments of our journey.

But in all seriousness, Matt had one of the best knowledge on soil health from his business of organic banana production with a constant quest to learn more to improve his local business. What I appreciated from Matt the most, were our one on one discussions, he had a genuine interest in my opinion for his business, but offered ideas, suggestion and wanted to know more about my life and farming business at home.

Ben Edser

Ben Edser, the dark horse in my books, known for his humour and Australian abruptness, became a great travel mate. Not raised in farming, but now involved in poultry production and more specifically organic compost production near Brisbane, Australia. Ben brought his legal training to conversations and tactics of questioning. If there was manure, a by product from crop residue or wasted food he was always questioning why they weren’t getting more from their waste. 

Ben announced early in the trip, that he and his wife Steph are expecting a baby later this year, which is very exciting and definitely life changing. 

I have to say, it was Ben’s non ag approach and perpetual quest for efficiency that I appreciated in Ben, that and his booming laugh and sense of humour. 

Jess Bensemann

Jessica Bensemann, perhaps the toughest nut to crack of the group. I finally felt as though we connected through the last couple weeks of the trip. Jess works for the New Zealand government in foreign aid and international extension through agriculture. 

Like everyone, we are all searching for something in life, in this, Jess recently decided to live a healthier lifestyle. The fact that Jess travelled for over 6 weeks with us, in an environment where food and drink go hand in hand with business functions, society or even a night in the town, Jess stood true to her values. 

Jess brought a different perspective to the group, often touching on global outreach and how knowledge is transferred between experts to farmers. What I appreciate most about Jess is her sheer excitement for new things, whether it was the countryside, fresh fruit, or the Eiffel Tower.  But like many in our group will attest, she was definitely the most indecisive of the lot!

Ray Hunt

The friendliest of the scholars was by far, Ray Hunt from Ireland. A man that talked to anyone and everyone, he was most certainly the most photographed on the trip. Ray is a first generation dairy farmer who started milking cows a couple of years ago, in addition to making everything work, he also has a career with a local artificial insemination company. Ray is interested in looking a genetic trends in the dairy sector as they relate to Irish agriculture. 

What I learned the most from Ray was about putting people at ease. Whether it was his Irish humour or desire to include everyone in a conversation, Ray left no one behind. There were numerous occasions where Ray’s phone would be out, snapping random group photos and always looking for the humour in life.

Luke Mancini

Last but not least was our trip accountant, Luke Mancini from Griffith, New South Wales, Australia, a grape, olive and row crop farmer. Luke volunteered to handle our team finances which was a thankless job. He did a tremendous job of reviewing, compiling and ensuring every dollar was accounted, as if his own. 

Luke was a terrific travel mate who learned more about dairy farming than his own desire, but once we moved into crop production regions, he was in his glory. I will be particularly interested to learn about his new grain business venture in the future. 

I can’t say thank you enough to Luke and the work he did accounting for our funds and being a guy always willing to step up, drive one of the rental cars, or ensure our group was functioning efficiently, hence his assigned nick name ‘The Little General’. But don’t be fooled, the General likes to have fun too!

For me, I am the lone Canadian and perhaps the only turkey farmer my crew will meet, but for a guy that likes to work hard, have a bit of fun, I know I accomplished both. It has been a fascinating experience travelling with this group of Nuffield Scholars. As different as we all may be, we each picked up the slack when tasks needed doing. Even though we each had our strengths and personalities, when the meetings were done and the notes filed away, I can honestly say I have met a group of people who will be friends for life!  

9th and final, Clair Doan

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!

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