Sustainable Innovation in the Canadian Agri-food Sector: Past, Present & Future

In order to remain globally competitive with sustainable innovations in agri-food, both the public and private sectors in Canada must increase investment in the industry.


Studies reveal that both sectors’ support for agri-food innovation has declined in recent years. To spur innovation and growth public funding should revert to previous levels, ideally reaching 0.10 per cent of GDP. Incentives such as tax relief, matching funds and enhanced protection of intellectual property rights could spur increased levels of private sector investment in innovation.


In the past 50 years, innovation in agriculture has brought tremendous benefits to producers, processors and consumers. Successful innovations include genetically modified crops, large-scale cattle feeding operations and the adoption of no-till farming, which has reduced the traditional practice of summerfallowing fields. Still, with the demand for a secure global food supply and growing concerns about the environmental impacts of large-scale farming, the need for sustainable innovation in the agri-food sector is pressing.


This paper offers three recommendations for policy-makers. First, public funding for agricultural research and development should be increased to prior levels. Next, the private sector needs more favourable conditions to foster investment in the agri-food industry. Last, if intellectual property rights are strengthened, innovating firms will be reassured that they can capture the economic benefits innovation creates.


Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Jared Carlberg

Developing an immersive virtual farm simulation for engaging and effective public education about the dairy industry

Growing public interest in understanding the origins and production methods of dairy products, driven by concerns related to environmental impact, local sourcing, and ethics, highlights an important trend. Nevertheless, a knowledge-trust gap persists between consumers and the dairy industry. Addressing this gap, in this paper, we developed an immersive virtual farm simulation to provide realistic on-farm experiences to the public. Within the virtual farm, users can explore various sites where dairy cows are raised and gain insights into dairy production processes using a head-mounted display (HMD). This simulation was demonstrated at local libraries, involving 48 public participants. We collected and analyzed participants’ feedback on various aspects, including usability and their overall perceptions, to assess the simulation’s effectiveness as an agricultural education tool. We investigated the impact of the virtual experience on participants’ perceived knowledge gain and their awareness of the dairy industry. The results indicate that our dairy farm simulation was positively received as an effective tool for public education. Emphasizing the potential of virtual reality (VR) simulations in agricultural education and the industry, we discuss our key findings and future plans.


Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Anh Nguyen, Michael Francis, Emma Windfeld, Guillaume Lhermie and Kangsoo Kim

Energy and Environmental Policy Trends: Farms, or Solar Farms?

As Alberta’s solar industry grows, so does concern about the land these installations might claim.


The use of agricultural land for renewable energy production has long been contentious. Recently, rifts have opened between levels of government on the topic, and it is at the heart of the province’s decision to pause all renewable project approvals for 6 months. One of the land-use impact issues identified for examination during the pause is the “development of power plants on specific types or classes of agricultural or environmental land.”


Key questions for policy makers centre on how much of the various types of land available in the province would be used for renewables. How much farmland could solar generation claim? Given that, presently, 1.3GW of solar generation capacity is installed in the province, and an Alberta Electrical System Operator model suggests this would need to increase to 5.2GW through 2041 to achieve ‘net zero’ by 2035 under a renewable intensive scenario, how much farmland are we talking about potentially putting into the shadow of solar arrays?


Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Sara Hastings-Simon, Hanan Ishaque and Guillaume L’hermie

Implicit Market Segmentation and Valuation of Angus Bull Attributes

Beef cattle production in the United States is characterized by diverse production and management systems. Much of this diversity occurs in the industry’s disaggregated breeding sectors (i.e., seedstock and cow–calf), which are made up of many small, independent producers. The effects of market segmentation on prices in hedonic models have long been discussed in the real estate literature. Despite knowledge of differences in derived demands for bull attributes among bull buyers and models equipped to handle these differences, to date there have been few attempts to identify and estimate attribute valuations across bull buyer segments. More work is needed to identify and understand bull buyer submarkets to improve the accuracy of marginal valuations of bull attributes.


The objective of this study is to identify heterogeneity in bull buyer valuations of bull attributes across latent classes using an FMM. This has important implications for seed-stock producers (i.e., those selling bulls), cow–calf producers (i.e., those buying bulls), and the industry as a whole as they seek to improve the quality and consistency of beef cattle and products. In this study, an FMM approach is applied to identify implicit bull buyer submarkets and examine bull buyers’ heterogeneous derived demands for bull attributes. Results indicate evidence of heterogeneous demands for bull attributes among bull buyers. A three-class FMM is identified as providing the best view of bull buyer heterogeneity. Differences in attribute valuations across latent classes of bull buyers appear to be associated with various aspects of producers’ production and management systems, including, but not limited to, farm goals, labor availability, and end-use marketing arrangements for calves.


Monday, October 30, 2023

Tang, M., Thompson, N.M., Boyer, C.N., Widmar, N.J.O. and Lusk, J.L.

Simulation of the Impact of Rangeland Management Strategies on Soil Health, Environmental Footprint, Economic Impact, and Human-Edible Nutrient Conversion from Grasslands in the Central and Northern Great Plains of the United States

Rangelands provide many ecosystem services such as food production, income for rural families and communities, recreation, wildlife habitat, soil carbon sequestration, plant and animal biodiversity, and water filtration. It is often assumed that grazing negatively impacts the natural ecosystem and that the removal of grazing would result in more pristine rangelands. Management-intensive grazing practices allow forages to store reserves during times of abundant precipitation, increase water-holding capacity, provide wildlife habitat at critical times of rearing young, and create a shifting mosaic with both old- and new-growth vegetation all the while maintaining animal productivity and income for ranchers. An analysis of the interaction between rangeland management practices and the ecosystem is needed.


The objective of this study was to determine the impact of combinations of management practices on the sustainability of rangelands in different ecoregions across the Great Plains. Six study sites were selected in Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota, encompassing the Flint Hills, High Plains, and Sandhills ecoregions. Twelve rangeland management scenarios were developed from combinations of stocking density (light, moderate, heavy), grazing management (continuous, rotational), and fire regime (no burn, spring burn) along with a no-management scenario. Each scenario was simulated at each site using established computer models: Agricultural Policy/Environmental eXtender model, Integrated Farm System Model, and Impact Analysis for Planning. Additionally, human-edible nutrient conversion was computed. A sustainability index was developed to encompass the three sustainability pillars (i.e., environmental, economic, and social) into a single value. Unmanaged rangelands generally had less soil (20%), nitrogen (30%), and phosphorus (50%) losses, although this was not consistent across ecoregions, and similar or greater soil carbon deposition than grazed rangelands. There was an interaction among stocking density, grazing management, fire regime, and ecoregion for many indicators of soil health, greenhouse gas emissions, economic activity, and human-edible nutrient conversion. The scenarios with the greatest overall sustainability index value had moderate to high index values for each of the three pillars (people, planet, profit). In conclusion, the ranking of rangeland management practices based on sustainability indicators was inconsistent across ecoregions, indicating that the optimal management system to improve sustainability of rangelands is not the same for all ecoregions.


Monday, October 30, 2023

Merri E. Day, Minfeng Tang, Phillip A. Lancaster, Deann Presley, Dustin L. Pendell, Walter H. Fick, Luca Doro, Adam Ahlers and Andrew Ricketts

Risk factors associated with calf mortality in Western Canadian cow-calf operations

Calf mortality is a significant concern for cow-calf producers, until recently, assessing the link between herd-level factors and calf mortality proportions has been challenging due to difficulties in securing reliable data. Our study addresses this issue by utilizing producer-reported causes of calf mortality and corresponding death loss data from a survey conducted in Western Canada.


This study examined the influence of management practices and herd demographics on calf mortality proportions in Western Canadian cow-calf operations, utilizing data from the second Western Canadian Cow-calf Survey. The survey was conducted between October 23, 2017, and February 28, 2018. The survey, which was open to all cow-calf producers across Western Canada, provided producer-reported data regarding calf death loss and corresponding herd-level factors. A fractional logit model was employed to identify significant factors associated with calf mortality proportions. The findings revealed that shorter breeding seasons (<63 days), calves born within the same season, and regular pregnancy checks for breeding females were negatively associated with calf mortality proportions. Conversely, regular breeding soundness evaluations for breeding bulls, traditional weaning methods, and vaccinating heifers for scours showed positive associations with increased calf mortality proportions. Herd operations where dams were vaccinated against clostridial and bovine respiratory diseases had lower calf mortality proportions. Notably, operations with experienced primary decision-makers holding off-farm jobs had lower predicted calf mortality proportions compared to those managed by full-time cattle producers. Higher predicted calf mortality proportions were observed in operations employing a backgrounding system. This study contributed to the research on cow-calf operation by using a fractional logit model to analyze the correlation between risk factors and calf mortality proportions, and by identifying novel herd-level risk factors. It provided a basis for future research aimed at developing empirically-based management strategies to optimize calf health outcomes.


Monday, October 30, 2023

Minfeng Tang and Guillaume Lhermie