Before I accepted my job at Annex Business Media as editor of Manure Manager (and Drainage Contractor) at the age of 31, I hadn’t been on a farm since the age of five.
I didn’t even have my city girl status as an excuse – while I’d spent the first 10 years of my career in Toronto, before I moved to the Big Smoke, I’d attended university in Waterloo Region and would make near-weekly jaunts up to St. Jacobs for its farmers markets. Prior to my schooling, I spent most of my childhood in Kapuskasing, Ont. – a far-north town of 8,000 people with a forestry-driven economy. While Kap’s bitter and long winters have made it difficult for the town to maintain a prolific growing economy throughout the 1900s (more on that quirky piece of history here), the town once had a rich agricultural heritage prior to the 20th century. Even after that, it was the longtime site of an AAFC agricultural research farm (which we colloquially called the “experimental farm”). This farm is the only one I ever visited; my kindergarten teacher took my classmates and I to view a livestock demonstration and understand a bit more about farming.
For a long time, a disconnect was clear. I was a consumer of agricultural products, but had little firsthand knowledge or appreciation when it came to issues within the agriculture industry, problems faced by farmers and more. In my rebellious teen days, I latched onto terms like “grass-fed” and “organic” without really understanding what they meant.
After I joined the agriculture team at Annex, I knew that I had to open my mind much, much more. I had to talk to farmers, see their operations, meet their animals, ask them real questions and move beyond the buzzwords. I even chose to leave Toronto for Norfolk County, Ont., a region driven primarily by agriculture. I know the moment I open my window on a spring morning when manure spreading has begun. I look forward to an annual “release of the cows” event when a local farm lets its cows out into the pasture for the first time in the calendar year. Who doesn’t want to see happy, frolicking cows?
One thing I quickly learned is that there’s a good chance everyone you talk to here either grew up on a farm, has a family member who farms or is a farmer themselves. As such, all of those conversations with farmers I felt I missed out on have become a regular occurrence – not just at the local agricultural research station or over a lunch meeting, but at the bookstore, in line at the coffee shop and waiting for take-out. During those conversations, I learned that as much as the general consuming public is not always tuned into agriculture, the same cannot be said about agricultural producers. Producers have to have their ear to the ground to keep on top of every shifting consumer trend, every public issue and more. They need to not only meet those demands, but also work overtime to correct misconceptions.
The food livestock eats is one of those issues that can keep producers up at night. Balancing the health of their animals with the profitability of their farms is a challenge, especially as new research challenges old ways, as consumers become divided over labels and as regulators try to keep up.
Take, for example, the global growth of the insect feed market. Research shows that livestock and fish can benefit from a diet of insect feed. But o, were it only that simple. There is still plenty of ongoing research about what kind of insect species has the most benefits for the right kind of livestock. Then there’s the matter of regulation, which differs widely from country to country and has been criticized by some as unclear. Finally, there’s public perception. Despite calls from the consuming public for more sustainable practices, that might be hard to balance with the widespread “ick” reaction some still get at the idea that the chicken on their plate was fed a healthy diet of insects.
That’s just one example of how there are few issues in livestock production that are simple, least of all when it comes to feed.
That is, of course, why trade publications exist in the first place – and why deep dive features into topics like this are necessary. We are not just purveyors of information, but also purveyors of perspective. With a laser focus on animal feed, grain and additives, we can go in-depth on niche topics that might not be talked about in many other magazines, but are certainly talked about in line at the coffee shop.
We look forward to tackling the challenges facing today’s livestock and grain producers through equal lenses of science and business. And, with perspective from the top researchers and experts in their field, interviews with producers whose experience speaks for itself and features from seasoned ag writers, what we’re proudest to offer is a magazine and website fuelled by a knowledge and appreciation of farming.
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