An engagement took place on the farm recently – not the kind that requires flowers and diamond rings, but the kind that has people coming together for a stakeholder meeting, complete with a farm tour, BBQ and round-table discussions.
My farm proudly hosted a first-ever stakeholder engagement session for the egg industry, focussed on the environment. We had close to 30 people or “players” join us to learn, ENGAGE in discussion and share their knowledge. It was fun, stressful, exciting, stressful, important, and stressful… and did I mention fun?
The people who participated in this event are really “players” in their respective fields. They are influencers, decision makers and have a voice. There were representatives from Whole Foods, Ducks Unlimited, World Wildlife Fund, Natural Resources Conservation Board, various branches of the provincial government, McDonald’s Canada, United Egg Producers, A&W, Burnbrae Farms, the Research & Extension Council of Alberta, and the list goes on.
Provincially, our egg industry has focussed on sustainability, and within that scope we are beginning to realize that we need to listen to, and ENGAGE with, the people who purchase our eggs. We need to listen to organizations that have an interest in how farmers take care of the resources we are entrusted with. We need to communicate our goals, expand our thinking and ENGAGE!
Agriculture is sometimes criticized for not being open and transparent about how we handle livestock or take care of the land, air and water on our farms. We farmers are sometimes considered to be exploitive. I believe much of this has to do with the fact that most people only see and buy food in the grocery stores and restaurants they frequent. There is no connection back to the land or people who grow and raise the food. There is a lack of communication and a lack of understanding of what is important to individuals and groups; we need to ENGAGE!
This stakeholder engagement session showed off what our industry is doing. Here is a list of some of the achievements that the Alberta egg industry can be proud of:
- PEEP: the Canadian egg industry’s first on-farm environmental program
- Our inaugural Sustainability Report
- Completed a Life Cycle Analysis or LCA. LCA is a technique to assess the environmental aspects and potential impacts associated with a product, process or service
- The development of a Net-Zero Layer Barn, which is currently under construction. Net-zero in its simplest definition means that the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site
There was also considerable discussion about what still needs to be done and what constraints and barriers exist:
- There are trade-offs in efficiency, environment, economics, food safety and animal welfare – we need to find the right balance
- Climate change policy is evolving
- Does everyone care? Consumers range from passionate activists to apathetic individuals
- Long-term Investment means that while there can be change, it takes a while to get everyone there
- Limited land availability
Many of these issues are bigger than just Alberta, so we need to look at issues nationally and ENGAGE at that level. Can we do more? Absolutely, yes. Will we do more? Absolutely, yes. However, it truly needs to be socially responsible, environmentally sound and economically viable.